Summing-up the Liturgical Year Experiment

Joan Chittister, “The Liturgical Year”

This past year (liturgical year, that is) I (Stacey Gleddiesmith – SG) have been walking through the Christian seasons with Ian Walden (IW) and Andrea Tisher (AT) – and we have all been walking with Joan Chittister, as we read through her book The Liturgical Year. For the conclusion of this series, I posed a number of questions to Ian, Andrea, and myself about the experience of walking very intentionally through the liturgical calendar this year. I know that some of you have been tracking with us throughout the year – even reading with us. We would love to hear your own answers to some of these questions – so comment away!

  • Is there one moment or event that stands out to you when you think back on walking through the church calendar/liturgical year with Joan Chittister?
    • IW: Advent, particularly the early stages, which bind up all our tiredness from months of following an invisible Jesus in ordinary time, and restore our hopes by uniting them with Israel’s. Joan confirmed Advent as my favourite time of the year, especially by highlighting that it is… the “beginning” of our year. We start by placing the “end” of Israel’s hopes (and ours), the coming of Jesus, right smack in front of our eyes. It sets a very different tone for the year than “New Year” party loneliness, excess, and regret!
    • SG The memory that crystalizes this past liturgical year for me is singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!” and “He Arose” for weeks, rather than one single, solitary time on Easter morning…. Being able to let loose and celebrate fully (and at length) the resurrection of Christ (and therefore our resurrection to come) gave me hope and strength during a dark time in my life. It was an unexpected blessing.
    • AT: For me… Advent was the most memorable because it was also my first Advent in First Baptist Church (Vancouver) and so I was exploring both what Advent means, and what it means to this community, and how we might engage more deeply in the season… Looking back, I’m excited about how we learned to dig deep – and looking forward, I’m excited to do it again and with a little more awareness of who we are as a church and with a little more confidence that they trust me to lead them in new ways of doing things.
  • What did you find difficult about following the liturgical year?
    • AT: … Practically, it is really hard to live the story during Holy Week, when on the Wednesday night, you gather to rehearse all of the resurrection songs for Sunday morning. It’s a bit like skipping through scenes of a movie and then watching them in the wrong order and trying to stay “in” the story… it is a challenge for me on a personal level, but also on a pastoral level as I lead the 60+ musicians involved through that kind of week. I don’t want any of us to miss out on the week, but I also want us to be prepared.
    • IW: My own lack of preparation. Most events (the beginning of Lent, and even Easter day) caught me unawares, despite this advance reading and anticipation with Joan Chittister. By the time I’d realised the significance of the day, it had already passed, and I wasted the season in regret and never-really-getting-started.
    • SG: Being a worship leader, I need to plan for the next liturgical moment while I am both in the midst of the current moment and evaluating the previous moment. It is exhausting to walk this line… and it has caused me to think significantly my planning process (I’m going to try to write a basic plan for the coming liturgical year over the summer). At the same time, this blurring of lines enabled me to not only see, but experience, the connections between the liturgical seasons in a new way. Connect to the accompanying blog post.
  • What practice(s) will you take with you into the following year?
    • SG: Honestly, I don’t think we, as a church, will celebrate every little day and season… We will, however, preserve the seasons of fasting (Advent and Lent) and try to hold back on celebration, taking time to really prepare for it. We will also hang on to the extended seasons of celebration. Now that I’ve experienced an “extended Christmas” and an “extended Easter” I’m not sure I can go back to a one day “pull-out-all-the-stops” kind of celebration…
    • IW: Fasting / conscious preparation in both Advent and Lent (and figuring out the nature of those fasts, and making practical preparations for them [like clearing out the fridge] a week in advance). A “big” Easter (featuring, at least, communal worship times and personal reflections spanning Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as Sunday)
    • AT: The main practice I’d like to take with me is one of “liturgical awareness” that is contagious… I found Chittister to be so inviting… Her descriptions of seasons and practices have such a winsome and attractive way about them… If I could live the seasons a little more the way Chittister describes them, perhaps there would be less need to convince anyone that participation and awareness of the seasons is a good idea.
  • Having walked intentionally through the liturgical calendar, how would you describe its meaning and purpose in the life of the church?
    • IW: It is a continual reminder of our purpose beyond this life. It insists that our lives aren’t just week-by-week, year-by-year survival, but they are witnesses and pioneers of a transposed life, of years after years that will one day (a day that starts now) be lived in a different, higher “key.”
    • AT: The liturgical calendar ensures that the church celebrates the WHOLE story. We don’t spend a whole year in lament or celebration, but follow the cycles which will allow for them both in the context of a story that is central to who we are. The calendar means that Jesus will have to be the focus for much of the year, which hopefully would be true anyway, but it also means that we’ll have to explore some of the less “popular” aspects of His life and ministry – including the idea that we are waiting for him still (Advent) – and to walk a little more slowly through the “death and resurrection” part of the story (Holy Week).
    • SG: After this past year, I understand what Chittister says near the beginning of her book. The slow, cyclical, plod through the life of Christ and the life of the church through the Spirit works as a spiral calling us ever deeper into the life of God. Humanity is designed for repetition. We need to hear the big story over and over – and the liturgical year is a great tool to guide a congregation through and into this meaningful repetition.
  • What would be the value of introducing some of these practices to the “non-liturgical” church, and how would you go about introducing them?
    • SG: The liturgical year is a key way in which you can work to deepen the spiritual life of your congregation. You don’t need all the bells and smells, but I would encourage “non-liturgical” churches to consider how they can rehearse the story: drawing on the liturgical traditions – but reapplying them in a way that suits the personality and character of their specific congregation.
    • IW: Church unity. However much we may disagree about doctrine, it’s harder to distrust and despise one another when we’re all consciously participating in the same acts at the same time. It gives us something in common we can talk about, for starters! Most “non-liturgical” churches plan preaching series in advance and cherish scripture, and so I would start there, consciously aiming to start a new series on the first Sunday of Advent, on Epiphany, in Lent, in Eastertide, and in Ordinary Time…
    • AT: I’m not really in a completely “non-liturgical” setting, so I think for me, it’s about adding strength and depth to our current practices and possibly adding to some of the seasons/days that we tend to treat more lightly. This next year, I’d like us to engage more in Eastertide, with a sense of heading towards Ascension and Pentecost…. I’m also thinking about ways that we might engage in a day like All Saints. Some of my key volunteers have been thinking with me about some creative ways to engage the day, but in a manner that will be more familiar…
  • How did the experience of walking intentionally through the liturgical calendar impact you personally?
    • AT: I found it very special to walk through the seasons thoughtfully and reflectively WITH you two. And my thinking and reflecting with you spilled over into other conversations and relationships too. I think it helped me feel more of a communal engagement. And the beauty of it is the way that the events of our lives match or completely miss-match the season. It means that sometimes we’re in a depression on Easter Sunday. And that’s okay. Or sometimes we’re in the euphoria of relational bliss during Lent. Or we’re experiencing some other life situation that feels “liturgically inappropriate”… as we gather week by week, there are those in our midst who are full of joy, anger, happiness, despair, excitement, anxiety … and so the calendar helps us to engage the whole gamut of human experience. (A bit like the Psalms, really!)
    • SG: Walking intentionally through the liturgical calendar in the company of Joan Chittister, Ian Walden, and Andrea Tischer gave me a fresh understanding of Jesus. The slow intentional plod of the liturgical year, and its focus on Christ, made me feel that I was matching my footprints (along with the others journeying with me) to Jesus’ footprints in the dust.  Stories I have heard all my life, accounts of Christ’s life that I have read almost yearly, came alive in a new way as I tried to walk my congregation through them… the liturgical year awakened in me a desire to measure my life in a new way.
    • IW: It convicted me! Mostly of how I live for deadlines, not for eternity. I time my life by accomplishments, not seasons, or character growth. This year re-awakened me to the scale of transformation I want to see in my life and goals. I don’t want to forget the height of purpose and depth of character that the various seasons call us to. I want my to-do list constantly reduced, effectively, to “walk with Jesus.”

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