Liturgy

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I woke up this morning much earlier than I was supposed to.  It was obviously almost morning because the light had begun to stream through y bedroom window.  I watched the illuminated motes of dust and realized: I was more awake than I would be if I tried to go back to sleep and allowed the quacking to wake me (my phone alarm is set to a duck sound).  Before I could really make a decision about going back to sleep a phrase ran through my mind

Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun.  Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

The phrase is from a devotional I’ve been going through, first with the staff at The Spring and then with a bible study I’m a part of.  I was unaware that I had memorized it.  That’s the thing about liturgy, someone else gives you words to pray but they slowly become your words.  The Psalms as a book function the same way “Praise as instruction and instruction for praise” as one of my commentaries puts it.  Yesterday my roommate and I were studying together at a coffee shop and suddenly a song was stuck in his head

I will praise you oh Lord, my God, with all of my heart I will glorify your name forever, Great is your love to me, you have delivered me

He had been working through a devotional and was reading Psalm 86 and suddenly realized he already knew the words (they are incorporated in one of our worship songs).  They were deep inside him; he wasn’t conscious of them but all of a sudden, there they were.  His heart responded to the words with a tune.  Mine responded to the Dawn with excellent words.  That’s the thing about liturgy it shapes our instincts, our automatic responses aiding us in our practice of the presence of God.

 

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Coffee

Often times in graduate school I have joked that coffee is gasoline to the student.  For whatever the reason in our modern life coffee shops have become a hub for people to congregate.  Actually i have read books in seminary which talk about “where people congregate,” given that the Church in America is dying.  For the most part the answer appears to be, bars, gyms and of course coffee shops.  I spend a great deal of time in them studying, and find that I frequently meet interesting people in the process.

The other day there was this peculiar moment when good music started playing in a local Arizona shop and there was a subtle change in the place.  Grinning, I looked up, noticing heads bobbing, feet and pencils tapping, smiles developing, as we all became united in the rhythm.  A young black woman at the counter was ordering and began to dance a rather impressive samba.  An older white gentleman, in a trance near the open window began to clap.  It was delightful and bizarre: a room full of people connected in simple joy for a few moments.  Almost as fast as it arrive, it was gone.  We slipped back to our various activities, individuals again.

I need that sort of connection.  Its not why I go to Church, nor is it why I am a Christian.  But its good to feel like you aren’t alone.  When a group of people come together in a worship service and are united in music and prayer before God in the mystery of the Holy Spirit its a wonderful experience!  While very much like the one in the coffee shop, it differs in its intentionality and frequency.  In the book of Acts there is this moment we call Pentecost (Acts 2:43-47) when Christians experience the Spirit of God for the first time.  Its joyful and chaotic, so much so that anyone else watching assumes they must be drunk.  Its just not a normal thing to loose our self-consciousness and dance and sing together. Something has to grease the wheels so to speak, we need a social lubricant.  But it sure it great when it happens!

Immersion

Thanks to http://www.scottenglishphoto.com/blog/ for the picture, Scott Milam is an amazing photographer.

When my parents moved to Phoenix with young Children it was very important to them to enroll us in swimming lessons.  Safety was, of course, a large concern but there was also the social aspect.  To be unable to swim in the city was to be a leper at summer parties and various hang outs.  As a result they made certain we learned well and my brothers and I are comfortable, though perhaps not graceful, in any aquatic environment.

I have been thinking about a metaphor this week.  I grew up in the Church, and became a Christian in Junior High.  Through Young Life in college I was made aware of the mission of the Church and the means to carry it out in a way I had never before imagined.  Years later I went to Seminary and have in the process discovered a call to be a pastor, not to mention the depth and complexity that Scripture, Tradition and the Lord represent.

You see, growing up, I was aware of the waters of faith.  I became able to swim when I was in college and I believed myself to be pretty good at it.  Yet I was always in the shallow end of the pool, just barely dangling my toes off the edge.  This is not to pass judgement on that season in my faith, I belonged in the shallow end, I couldn’t handle myself in rougher seas.  Following a significant loss in my life after college I found myself thrown into the deep end, sputtering, gasping and coughing for air in heretofore unknown environment.  It was a time of great crisis, confusing pain and all I could do was tread water and hope for some sight of land.  I wondered if there was a God, if He existed if He was even good at all, and whether or not He was harming me on purpose, knowing just where to hurt me.  I didn’t even know that the deep end existed.

Seminary has been the discovery that the Christian life is no safe swimming pool but rather a deep ocean, in which I have only been wading thus far.  Through my professors, excellent books, the Bible, Prayer and the Psalms in particular I have slowly learned to swim.   Indeed I have grown to be strong and confident, unconcerned by the possibility of monsters below the surface.  Filled with a sense of adventure when I go far from land and any safe reference point or easy answers, yet able to return without losing myself amid the waves.  It is here, in this season, that I have begun to appreciate books in the wisdom tradition in the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures.  Here I find books like Job which ask questions and raise troubling issues, all the while shooting down pat religious answers or simple cliches about the nature of God.  I am learning the difference between floating and diving deep. I am learning the difference between defending him and preaching the good news about him.  I am learning to grow comfortable with tension and live into the vast mystery that an infinite God represents.

The Othe J Z- What I learned from a man named John Zizioulas

John Zizioulas is a Greek Orthodox theologian and is now the bishop of Pergamom (so says Wikipedia).  I recently read a book he wrote called Being as Communion. The entire book would be too difficult to summarize but to be honest you probably wont want to read it unless you have studied theology or philosophy.  The thing I found so intriguing is that he is basically writing theology from the standpoint of existentialist philosophy.

The existentialist asks questions like “why does life have meaning? or does it at all?” etc.   For many of them the question of freedom is a very important issue.  Namely, if humans aren’t free then perhaps attaining freedom is the real meaning of existence.  However, the fundamental problem for people like Camus, or Doestoevsky is that human beings have no choice in their birth. If we have no liberty in this most basic area, whether to exist or not, then perhaps we have no freedom at all.  Suicide obviously represents a degree of freedom, in that you can choose the moment of your death and exercise your freedom over existence by ceasing to be.  Obviously this represents a paradox.

The existentialist philosophers, however, have shown, in our day- with an intellectual honesty that makes them worthy of the name philosopher- that, humanly speaking, the person as an absolute ontological freedom remains a quest without fulfillment.  Between the being of God and that of man remains the gulf of creaturehood, and creaturehood means precisely this: the being of each human person is given to him; consequently, the human person is not able to free himself absolutely from his ‘nature’ or substance,’ from what biological laws dictate to him…for man is his existence itself: how can a man be considered absolutely free when he can not but do other than accept his existence?… The disturbing words which Dostoevsky puts in Kirilov’s mouth sound an alarm: if the only way of exercising absolute ontological freedom for a man is suicide then freedom leads to nihilism; the person is shown to be the negator of ontology

What is the solution then?  How can a person gain power over their own birth?  Zizioulas very cleverly answers this philosophical question with the words of Jesus in John 3 “you must be born from above,” born again.  He then takes John 14:6 literally claiming that Jesus is in fact the truth of being

not just because he is an epistemological principle which explains the universe, but because he is life and the universe of beings finds its meaning in its incorruptible existence in Christ, who takes up into himself (anakefaleosis) the whole of creation and history.  Being is inconceivable outside of life and because of this the ontological nature of truth resides in the idea of life… When we are told that Adam died because he fell by making himself into God- i.e. the ultimate reference point of existence- is something on the level of ontology not psychology.  Death intervenes not as the result of a punishment for an act of disobedience but as a result of the individualization of nature to which the whole cosmos is subjected.  In other words there is an intrinsic connection between death and the individualization into which we are born (which shows)… what it means to have a life, which is not the true life (zoe aletheia).  To be saved from the fall, therefore, means essentially that truth should be fully applied to existence, thereby making life something true, i.e. undying… When Christ says He is the truth and at the same time the life of the world, He introduces into truth a content carrying ontological implications.  It the truth saves the world it is because of life… Christology is founded precisely on the assertion that only the trinity can offer to created being the genuine base for personhood and hence salvation.  This means that Christ must be God in order to be savior, but it also means something more: He must be not an individual but a true person… True life, without death, is ontologically impossible for us as long as our being is ontologically determined by our creaturehood… Christ is the truth precisely because he because in Himself He shows not just being, but the persistence, the survival of being; through the resurrection, Christology shows that created existence can be so true that not even human freedom can suppress it… Truth and being are existentially identified only in Christ’s resurrection, where freedom is no longer fallen

Human beings are always looking for meaning.  I find that in Jesus life attains real significance.  John Zizioulas helped me think about this in a new way.