One of the pleasant perks that comes from living close to the ocean is that I am able to grab my beach chair and a book and read while listening to the gentle sounds of wind and waves. My reading this summer has ranged from real-life adventure [The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz; Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins] to historical novels [The Religion, an epic story along the lines of the battle of Thermopile of the last battle of the crusades waged on the island of Malta between the Ottoman hoard and a small band of Knights of St. John, by Tim Willocks.] Tucked away in my list of summer reading is one book that has captured my imagination: The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, by John Harper.
I’ll admit, from the sound of the title, this book does not sound like beach-reading. But, it has been so refreshing to rediscover what one writer has called the missing jewel of the church … Worship. After sitting through an endless stream of services composed of two sets of worship choruses [three choruses a piece], a somewhat thoughtless prayer [we thank you, God, for being God], sprinkled with an abundance of announcements followed by an offering, topped by a sermon, it’s been stimulating to encounter the rich tapestry of treasures that belong to worship.
Consider a few of the following quotes:
“The praise of the Almighty was for Christians the highest and most important of human activities, deserving the best of their energy, artistic endeavor, and wealth. The rich heritage…reflects this.”
“Medieval liturgy was not only highly sophisticated; it was often the principal pursuit of communities of men or women whose whole lives [often from childhood] were dominated by daily worship.”
“But, the communities of clerks, priests, monks and nuns who animated these rich resources are gone. Gone too are the aesthetic, spiritual and theological backgrounds and the social framework that supported these communities.”
Each line begs for reflection. I’m just a bit unsure how far such reflection will go.
I was sharing some of my thoughts with a few dear friends who dismissed the subject with a quick “well, that liturgy stuff is dry and meaningless, just dead ritual.”
As I read more of the way worship can be expressed, I can’t help but form a mental picture of the quality of the banquet God has spread before us. Carefully prepared expressions of gourmet artistry, deep symbols, shared voices, rich textures of holy things. It’s hard to imagine that we would reject them all in favor of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and consider ourselves nourished.