Rites and rituals, the holy in the everyday

Today, on What We’re Reading Now, we hear from a guest reader, Amelia Richardson Dress.  Amelia is a writer, a mom, a passionate advocate for children and families, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who’s always excited to re-discover the holiness of her mundane life. She blogs at Barefoot Family, barefootfamily.me.  From time to time, you will hear different voices on this page.  And Amelia’s is one we all need to hear, so I hope that you will read on about the book she has chosen to share with us.

One Sunday while I was in high school I invited a friend to attend church with me. I felt the need to warn her about two things:

  1. There weren’t a lot of kids our age.
  2. We did this weird thing every Sunday called “Passing the Peace.”

This second one was a great source of embarrassment to me. I couldn’t fathom why we would stand up, walk around and say hello to people. Having no idea that this was an ancient Christian practice, I genuinely believed it was a new-fangled invention dreamt up by a miguided committee late one night.

What my teenage self needed was Tish Harrison Warren’s book Liturgy of the Ordinary, which beautifully relates our sometimes-bizarre Sunday morning practices to the rhythms of daily life. To be sure, the point of the book is probably the exact opposite. She is, I think, illustrating the way in which daily life mirrors worship in order to point out that all of our life is Holy. She is brilliantly showcasing that there is no separation between the “sacred life” and the “secular life.” Through this lens, we’re reminded that life itself becomes it’s own worship-filled rhythm.

But by highlighting this, Warren also illustrates the reverse: the ancient liturgy is deeply personal and relevant.

As she says, “In church on Sunday we participate in a liturgy–a ritualized way of worship–that we repeat each week and by which we are transformed. Our Sunday liturgies look different from tradition to tradition. Quakers, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians worship differently but within each tradition there are patterns of worship, and through each gathered liturgy congregants are formed in a way of being-in-the-world. Even those traditions that claim to be free-form or non-liturgical include practices and patterns in worship. Therefore, the question is not whether we have a liturgy. The question is, “What kind of people is our liturgy forming us to be?”

Thanks to this, I’ve been pondering a recent habit I’ve developed of reaching for my phone to check news and email first thing in the morning. I’ve been prompted to ask, “How is this act shaping who I am?” What is the rhythm of the day I’m creating and does it reflect what I believe about God?

Likewise, as I’ve been in worship, striving to keep pace as we say together the Call to Worship, I’ve reflected not just on “how long will this take and when can we go have coffee and snacks” but on how I’d like each day to start with a call to worship–a reminder that this is the day the LORD has made and I should strive to live into it accordingly.

With theological rigor and poetic examination of life, Warren has woven together 11 spiritual practices, many of them part of the Sunday morning liturgy, with daily life. What does checking email have to do with the end-of-church blessing? Or how does losing the car keys resemble the practice of confession? The aspects Warren draws from are both surprising and inspirational. I was left with the sense that my day-to-day life had been transformed as well as my Sunday morning worship.

While Warren writes from a liturgical tradition (Episcopalian) and her book will be much loved by those who are already familiar with the rites and rituals of church life, I think it would also be treasured by those who are new to traditional liturgical practice as well as those, like me, who have at times wondered what misguided committee dreamt up these crazy practices.



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