Remembering to see...

Today we spent time preparing the Sanctuary for Advent. I like the expression "dressing the Sanctuary for the season." It speaks of intentionality. It honors beauty. And it strengthens our commitment to radical hospitality. Just as a table well set evokes welcome and a sense of place for all the guests at a dinner party, so too a well appointed Sanctuary. Whomever chooses to gather for worship will be put at ease through their senses. 

Like the Eastern Orthodox know, there is a spoken and a sensual dimension to good liturgy. One without the other flattens the entire experience - and our worship must always be an experience. Thomas Merton taught that, "We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time... in people and in things and in nature and in events... But the problem is we don't see it. Spiritual practice (worship included) is about remembering to see." (John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, p. 61)

Everything about our sensual and spoken liturgy, therefore, points to the mystery of this season: remembering to see God in the most unlikely places. This year we are hoping to encourage the practice of quiet contemplation throughout the faith community during Advent. Western culture abhors silence and restful waiting - and Western Reformed Christianity is like our culture on steroids. We are uber productive beings who define our value and sense of purpose according to our usefulness. We want our worship to "give us something useful" to make our lives work better. We want our prayers to evoke a satisfying response from the Lord. And we want our liturgy to compel others into social action. 

At the same time, we want to be spiritually refreshed and renewed - and often entertained. This is an impossible challenge for Sunday morning, so we've decided to abandon it this year with no regrets. In its place we'll reclaim the new/old practices of quiet prayer, candle light, simple songs of supplication and the celebration of Holy Eucharist. Newell has written that "so much of our culture, including our religious inheritance, has felt lost when it comes to spiritual practice." He goes on to note that:

When the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that God is dead, he was not making an ontological point. He was making an existential point. He was not announcing that God had died, but that our experience of God had died. This was due, in part, to the way in which Western Christianity had focused its attention not on spiritual practice but on spiritual belief. It had confused faith with a set of propositional truths about the Divine, rather than personal experience  with the Divine that could be undergirded and sustained by particular
practices and disciplines. (p. 61)

Each week, in addition to lighting a candle on the Advent wreath and speaking
with the children about the Christmas Creche, we'll read the appointed lessons of the day and talk about them together. Then, for 3-5 minutes, we will sit in the quiet together to see what the Spirit is saying to our soul. There will be reflective music shared along with the invitation to light a candle as a sign of our intention to act upon the wisdom of the Gospel. Most of our prayers will be silent or sung. Most of our movements will be receptive: sharing the light, receiving Eucharist, opening our hearts to the Spirit. Like Mary, we will take all these things into ourselves and ponder them in our hearts for the entire season of Advent. As Merton once noted, "when we penetrate the innermost ground of our life... we are able to find our true meaning not from the outside, but from within."

My prayer for myself and the whole community of faith is that we start to trust and honor the wisdom and beauty God has already poured deep into each one of us. For when we know this grace from the inside out, then we can live in the world as bearers of peace.  Mary Oliver wrote:

To live in this world

  you must be able 
  to do three things:
  to love what is mortal,
  to hold it

  against your bones knowing
  your own life depends on it,
  and, when the time comes to let it go,
  to let it go.


Peter said…
We would love top attend your church this Advent. Maybe we'll do so in spirit...

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