Liturgy and class

In the last couple years, I’ve been leaning toward, being attracted to, a higher church liturgy. Oh, it would be nice to say, “The spirit is leading me in this direction”, which is something I CAN say about some things in my life. However, in this area I must say it’s probably just a matter of personal taste. Without a doubt it’s partially a backlash against church services centered around personalities and rock band worship. Now, I don’t have any problem with rock bands, or even rock band worship per se, I think I’m just grown tired of hearing them.

My wife has also felt the pull of higher church liturgy. However, she’s very wary of “stuffed shirt” religious types, and not without good reason. We’re both small-town country folk. Now we have university degrees with honors, but that doesn’t make us high society. Not even close in fact. The social ladder is unavoidable in and out of church. I would prefer that it would pollute worship as little as possible.

A comment today from Doug Wilson sheds some light on the subject I think:

Over the course of our nation’s history, what denominations have attracted the doctors, lawyers, bankers, and so on? Right — the more liturgical, staid, and formal churches. What churches have attracted the loggers, cops, and contractors? Right — the more informal, lively, and anti-liturgical. We are currently living through a period of cultural churn, where no one exactly knows what is up. Megachurches have breezy, multi-media worship, and they have plenty of doctors and lawyers trying to clap along with the songs. My argument is that this kind of thing is an anomaly. Over time, it will have to go one way or the other.A couple of possible objections, and I am done. Someone might point out that the Roman Catholic church has plenty of “blue collar” parishioners, which is quite true. But they do this by reproducing the entire range of socio-economic strata within the church. In other words, they have plenty of such worshippers, but they do not constitute the leadership of the church. If you were to find a church with blue collar leadership, and they had that leadership over the course of a generation or more, I would be willing to bet good money that the liturgy would be quite low.

Another objection is that this analysis seems to give “doctors and lawyers” too much credit in authenticating what the Church is supposed to be doing. Yes, this is quite a danger, one that James pointed out in his epistle. When the rich guys start showing up for church, it is time to guard your hearts against evil motives. This problem has happened plenty in the history of the Church. But remember, I am not applauding anything here. I am just watching. I am not arguing for high liturgy at all; I am simply pointing out that in history high liturgy has tended toward a particular effect. Having a high view of liturgy (which I do have) is not the same thing as having a high view of high liturgy (which I don’t have). But for those brethren who do have a high view of high liturgy, this is an observation or caution that can be used in either direction. “If we crank the liturgy up another notch, we might get some more big tithers from the medical field!” Or . . . “We need to watch our step here. This stuff is banker bait.”

That about sums it up

A Drinking Song
by William Butler Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

If they do not comprehend doctrines…

A quote from J.C. Ryle (1810-1900), first Anglican bishop of Oxford:

“Humility and love are precisely the graces which the men of the world can understand, if they do not comprehend doctrines…. [The poorest] Christian can every day find occasion for practicing love and humility.”

A fitting quote for where it was noticed, occasionally on the banner of the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Adam’s Curse

I recently bought a book of poetry by William Butler Yeats. So far, this is one of the best ones I’ve come across. I love how it deals with the frustration of producing art, that those who are not artists do not understand how hard of work it is. Pretty much anything we accomplish we do so by the sweat of our brow. Then he turns his own complaint on its head and reveals the labor of the woman is even more misunderstood.

Adam’s Curse

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, “A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.”
And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, “To be born woman is to know —
Although they do not talk of it at school —
That we must labour to be beautiful.”
I said, “It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.”

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Unrequited Love

Peter Leithart summarizes Richard Barber on medieval romantic poetry and courtly love:

Troubadour poetry reflects a “continual tension between the physical side of love, love shared and enjoyed, and the longing of an unfulfilled love.” Some praise consummated love as the only true love, while others enjoy the “exquisite pain-pleasure of a love which is either impossible to fulfill or is deliberately denied fulfillment.” Whatever direction the poetry goes, the man’s life is dominated by love, and his main object is to win his lady by gaining her favor. Thus, “from his love stem all virtues of this world – valour, courtesy, generosity – summed up in the one word pretz, worth. The man who does not love can never hope to be as accomplished as the lover whose desire spurs him on to new achievements.”

I must say I’ve always been a sucker for the idea of unrequited love. An impossible idealization that transcends our fallen nature. It doesn’t actually exist, but it’s often spoken of in music and art. It is curiously devoid of sex too, at least it’s not articulated. Some have suggested that it’s really a longing for God. I was surprised (though I guess maybe I shouldn’t have been) to find it in spades in the distant past as well.

A Blessing

This was originally posted by Tall Skinny Kiwi, but it is very much worth reprinting!

Beannacht (“Blessing”) by John O’Donohue,
from his book of Christian and Celtic wisdom titled Anam Cara.

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

The language is beautiful. Our usual blessing to each other is “Have a nice day”, or “Get well soon”. That’s nice but this is poetic and well thought out. In my childhood, I think something like this would have been looked at as purely sentimental and flowery – a waste time. But can words like this actually have power? No, I’m not talking about a Wiccan-esqe magic spell kind of power. Or a “good vibes” karma spreading kind of power. But something maybe CLOSER to that than having no significance beyond the words on the page.

At the most basic level it can communicate that the one giving the blessing actually put some time and effort into it. That can communicate love. Like going out of the way to buy your wife the exact kind of special orchid she likes instead of just getting her any old bouquet of flowers at the grocery store. So that’s real power, but it doesn’t leave the confines of our own heads.

Some would say that God is very INTERACTIVE with mankind in real time. He works with our prayers (or blessings in this case) and that what we think and do actually has an effect on God and how he then chooses to act and relate to us. Others think the very notion of that is silly and even dangerous. So what kind of power does a blessing like this have?

Just keep blogging, just keep blogging!

I’ve decided to quite trying to blog in a structured fashion. I have a whole list of things I wanted to write about specifically, but have had to force myself to shift gears most of the times I sat down to write. Shifting waffle squares can be hard work. Now I am going to not conform to the plans and just write about whatever I feel like writing about at the moment. I sat down today to blog more of “Reaching for the Invisible God”, but wrote a post about what was currently on my iPod instead. If I had tried to go with the plan, I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all!

The Never-Ending Road

I recently picked up Loreena McKennitt’s latest album “An Ancient Muse“. Unfortunately, it’s definitely not as strong as her past works. Reviewers are calling it “The Mask and Mirror Part II” and I must agree in many regards. Nonetheless, there are some moments of sublimity and I’ve grown to like it quite a bit. The musicianship is wonderful and the exotic stringed instruments (oud, hurdy gurdy, sitar, ???) are captured with a clarity that is rarely heard when they show up on other projects. Throughout the album she continues to explore spirituality, nodding at Christian, Muslim, and Jewish ideas, sometimes all at the same time while not being willing to embrace any of them.

One of the pieces is called “Never-Ending road”. Upon writing down the text, I realize it loses much of it’s energy and even meaning. LM’s lyrics and poetry is often VERY much tied to it’s music. It doesn’t usually stand on it’s own as well. You might want to listen to part of it.

Nevertheless, here it is:

The road now leads onward
As far as can be
Winding lanes
And hedgerows in threes
By purple mountains
Round every bend
All roads lead to you
There is no journey’s end

Here is my heart, I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

Deep in the winter
Amidst falling snow
High in the air
Where the bells they all toll
And now all around me
I feel you still here
Such is the journey
No mystery to fear

Here is my heart, I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple so few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

The road now leads onward
I know not where
I feel in my heart
That you will be there
Whenever a storm comes
Whatever our fears
The journey goes on
As your love ever nears

Here is my heart, I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

And from her notes:

The last song “Never-ending Road” was inspired by the tradition found within certainly the Christian, Judaic and Muslim traditions of mystics writing metaphoric poetry that is really reaching towards capturing the essence of the relationship between humanity and God. And I’ve loved this process of creating a document that speaks in this way. And in so far as this life is a journey with all its joys and sorrows and hardships, that it’s a never-ending journey, it’s a never-ending road. And that as conscious as I am of the far greater talent and vision of those who have inspired me, this song is really a modest gesture to that tradition.

Though the tone of the music is very different, in my mind this song strongly resembles “Obsession” from an early Delerious? album:

What can I do with my obsession?
With the things I cannot see
Is there madness in my being?
Is it wind that blows the trees?
Sometimes you’re further than the moon
Sometimes you’re closer than my skin
And you surround me like a winter fog
You’ve come and burned me with a kiss And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns

And I’m so filthy with my sin
I carry pride like a disease
You know I’m stubborn God and I’m longing
to be close
You burn me deeper than I know
I feel lonely without hope
I feel desperate without vision
You wrap around me like a winter coat
You come and free me like a bird

And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns for you

The later is painfully aware of our fallenness; our inability to cast the Lord aside and still live. LM may not have a very “right” theology, yet I believe she has perceived an important attribute of the character of God: Love. This isn’t the distant agnostic God watching the world spin far below. This isn’t the impersonal force in the trees and dirt. This isn’t the authoritarian task-master in the sky. This is a God of relationship with actual real humans like us. Mysterious and invisible yes, but also very near and not unknowable. You have to trust him. We resist and yet want to trust even more.

Praying to a tangible God?

This footnote caught my attention more than the text this time.

From Reaching for the Invisible God:

Thomas Green, a priest who has spent his life exploring spirituality and has written seven books on prayer, makes an interesting observation. He estimates that about the same proportion of people have a very successful prayer life as have a very successful marriage. Tangibility is not the issue, he says, for tangibility does not ensure the success of human relationships either.

Now human relationships ARE tangible, but that isn’t what makes them successful. You spouse or friend is someone you can see and touch and talk to and hear with your own ears. But human relationships break down all the time. What makes them stick is “fidelity”, that is faith. Faith in the other person even when they fail or hurt you. Love and forgiveness. All of these are invisible things. The Lord has all of these things in abundance toward us. We reflect some of them back to him.

Is THAT what I’m working for!??

I’ve had a lot of frustrations and disappointments running through my head lately. They have to do with real estate, the American Dream, how that relates to my family, my job, and what I’m on this planet for.

We got married, we bought a trailer so we could “build equity” (unfortunately the scare quotes ARE necessary). So, we did this so we weren’t throwing money away in rent. Then we bought ANOTHER trailer so we could be closer to church and friends, then we bought the cheapest house we could afford (except it turns out that we couldn’t really afford even that) so we could get out of the tin-can trailer world and into a “real house”. Now we are back in the same trailer we started in and about the same amount of cash in the bank. Four years and the circle is complete. So what the heck am I shooting for? Time to reexamine it.

All around us, just one mile away is a new subdivision that wasn’t there last year. It’s full of big, beautiful houses that would be sooo nice to live in, right? Really? Oh, so we can save up for a few more years, I’ll probably get a raise at work, maybe my wife’s parents will inherit some money and if everything comes together, we could maybe live in one of these cool places soon instead of crammed with all our kids into a tin can. Wait! Stop the tape!

So is THAT what I’m working for? The culmination of all my hopes and dreams?

Oddly enough, this was really driven home to me lately by watching Over the Hedge with my daughter. The film pokes fun at suburban living, and nothing so much as the song during the closing credits. I guess it’s a rehash of a Ben Folds song that originally made fun of rap-core.

Here are some excerpts:

We drive our cars everyday
To and from work both ways
So we make just enough to pay
To drive our cars to work each day
(MW: I have seriously spent the last year doing exactly that.)We’re rocking the suburbs
Around the block just one more time
We’re rocking the suburbs
Cause I can’t tell which house is mine
We’re rocking the suburbs
We part the shades and face facts
They got better looking Fescue
Right across the cul de sac
(MW: I actually know real live people who are thinking like this now. People who used to be interesting in college. People with hopes and dreams, reduced to rats in the consumer race. And I’m RIGHT behind them! Ahhh! I just don’t have quite as much money yet.)

Hotwheels take rising stars
Get rich quick seminars
Soap opera magazines
40,000 watt nativity scenes
Don’t freak about the smoke alarm
Mom left the TV dinner on
(MW: OK. I don’t really relate to this stuff (thank God), I just think that part about the nativity scene is pretty funny!)

We’re rocking the suburbs
Feed the dog and mow the lawn
Watching mommy balance the checks
While daddy juggles credit cards
(MW: Somebody shoot me.)

We’re rocking the suburbs
You’ll never know when we are gone
Because the timer lights come on
And turn the cricket noises on…
(MW: I think this happens a little bit further down the road, when you start to worry about someone stealing your stuff. Like maybe the neighbor you’ve never met, even though you’ve lived next door for 3 years.)

At the same time, I get this sick feeling in my stomach when I read Michael Spencer blogging about John Piper’s “Don’t Waster Your Life”. Now, much of the book boils down to how you aren’t really a cool Christian unless you do foreign missions. I have serious beef with that (and so does Michael), but I won’t go into it here. Isn’t it obvious though? Actually, Piper doesn’t believe that either. He’s a sharp guy. That’s just the feeling you get reading his book in this case. Ron Hutchcraft’s “Called to Greatness” has the same halo. Actually, there is great stuff in both these books…I digress though. I get a sick feeling when I just see the little image that Michael is using for these blog posts:

I feel sick because I think, “Oh my God, that’s me!”.

Anyway, the idea of living in one of these suburban dream homes, filling it with cheap plastic crap, and non-so-cheap furniture, is starting to REALLY lose it’s appeal. I used to be jealous of my friends and colleges who have this life. Now I’m not so sure.

The image above actually comes from the Buy Nothing Day campaign where you boycott the consumerism the day after thanksgiving by not spending any money that day. I really have no interest in secular reactionary movements against American consumerism. I’m worried about my SOUL. How did it become so weighed down with all this junk? I find myself walking right down this road that I scorn. It must have happened slowly. Maybe even while I was paying attention to important, legitimate things (like taking care of my kids). Anyway, it’s crept into my psyche, and has established itself in a place that used to be full of thoughts about the Gospel and the beautiful created things in the world. It has displaced things of wonder, music, and charity. How sad.

I don’t have a direction to go from here, except that I have a very strong desire to TURN FROM the road I am taking my family down. It’s likely I’d have to start with the latte I’m drinking as a write this…

“You have been down there, Neo. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.” – Trinity, The Matrix