I Hate Fasting: Chapter 17 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

I hate fasting. I hate not being able to eat what I want when I want it. I especially hate not being able to eat chocolate when it is desperately needed. My decision to follow the liturgical year has led me to fast from sweets for 40 days. I’m disturbed by how difficult this is – not only because it’s a constant excercise of willpower – but also because of sheer thoughtlessness. The other day I finished off a handful of yogurt-covered cranberries that someone offered me without even thinking about it.

So why should we fast during Lent (whether it is from sugar, from social media, or from some other habit or excess in our lives)? What is it about this season that requires us to give up something?

Chittister states that “Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now” (p. 110). And what shows commitment better than being willing and able to give up something for it, even something as minor as a sugar habit? Fasting, says Chittister, “exposes to seekers the distance between self-control and the compulsion to self-satisfaction” thus “Lent enables us to face ourselves, to see the weak places, to touch the wounds in our own soul, and to determine to try once more to live beyond our lowest aspirations” (p. 112).

“To live beyond our lowest aspirations.” I think I’ve just found my new life-motto. And it’s not an easy one, either. I’ve always joked that it’s best to aim low. Set low expectations and you will nearly always exceed them. But an aspiration is, by its very definition, already something beyond us. To live beyond our lowest aspirations first teaches us to reach high – and then to reach higher. Chittister states:

Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the greed that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the anger that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have reason now to forswear the pride that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to foreswear the lust that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the sloth that deters us from making spiritual progress, the gluttony that ties us to our bellies, and the envy that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the gifts we have been given. (p. 113)

I am humbled. I don’t think I have ever aspired to this – not in my wildest dreams. This is definitely above my lowest aspirations, because my aspirations are just that: low. My aspirations tend to be based on acquiring blessing rather than being a blessing to others. My aspirations tend to be directed at fame and glory rather than humility and growth. And it’s important that this change, and soon. Because, as Chittister states in this chapter, until Christ comes again – we’re it. The church, the community of Christ, WE are the presence of Christ on earth. This is why the fast of Lent is so important – why it is important to live beyond our lowest aspirations – because the life of the world depends on it.

So I hope, as I undertake the small aspiration of refusing sugar for 40 days, that this small withholding will begin to stir a larger change. That I will be inspired to live beyond this lowest aspiration of mine.

Have you given up something for Lent this year? How is it going? What are you withholding from yourself, and how is/will that withholding spur you to live beyond your own lowest aspirations?

Adult Afresh: Lenten Asceticism in Chapter 16 of Joan Chittister’s ‘The Liturgical Year’

by Ian Walden

As we’ve already noticed, Christmas easily becomes a child-centric  celebration. Not so Lent! What kid can easily be induced to forgo getting things for six whole weeks, let alone take up a practice like giving their precious treasures away? In her recollections of childhood lent exercises, Chittister states starkly that this “was about spirituality become adult.” Whether we are young or old, Lent is remorseless in posing one central question to us all: “If life is not about permanent and continual self-satisfaction, what is it about?” Indeed.

But as she has already intimated in chapter 15, Lent is also a voice calling us to live newly (no matter what our life has been like until now), to live fully, to live in the hope and light of promised mercy, guaranteed new life. In other words, Lent is supposed to be a gift to us of all the fresh-faced, open-skied, hopeful-futured possibility of youth. Even to us jaded ‘adults’.

So how is this rejuvenation to be achieved? According to Chittister, Lent is “our salvation from the depths of nothingness. It is our guide to the more of life.” The ascetic discipline it proffers is to “concentrate the soul, viselike, on the center of life rather than on its peripherals.” It is “the gift of self-conquest.” It seems that Lenten self-denial is about replacing the triviality in our lives with purpose, filling our inner emptiness with a new fullness, and substituting freedom in place of our slavery and addiction to various sins.

Lent’s renunciation, then, requires courage from us in order that it may work its magic. Courage, to acknowledge that life is too short and too fragile to be wasted the way I’ve been wasting it (hence the mortality-reminder on Ash Wednesday). Courage, to admit that too much of what I fill my life with is just a papering over of my inner emptiness, of a heart forgetful of grace, of calling, of missional purpose. Courage, to admit that I still need salvation from my home-made crutches and addictions and mis-placed priorities.

In return, the very practice of renunciation instils us with many gifts. In it we find faith, the daring to believe anew that I need less than I think of creation’s good things, because I am in fact the Creator’s friend. And hope, hope that by God’s mighty immanent grace, today can still be that better day, the day of Kingdom Come – and so I need not pin my hopes for ‘a better life’ on the next indulgence, the next vacation, the next tv programme or bit of human recognition. Asceticism, in short, is a form of training, training to say ‘no’ to my small-god-self, to depose myself in order to make way for others, for Another. It frees me from my tiny wisdom, my limited will. It frees my gifts to benefit more than just me. It frees and clears my consciousness for the very ‘contemplation’ that Ordinary Time calls me to (see chapter 15).

In Lent, it seems, it turns out that the true children (the hopeful, the liberated) are those who have ‘grown up’ via renunciation. How true does this picture of Lent ring for you? What practices have helped you ‘grow up’ in these ways in Lent seasons past? What kind of helps have enabled you to persist in the face of much temptation?

Ch. 18: Ash Wednesday and the Voices of Lent

by Andrea Tisher

Today we enter into the season of Lent (and so skip ahead to chapter 18). Ash Wednesday stands as a gateway into the season that calls us to follow Jesus, and to follow Jesus with all His other followers. It calls us back to what is important, refocuses our attention on a God that demonstrates His glory though suffering, and refutes the lie that we are alone.

Ash Wednesday is a day for “accepting what we have allowed ourselves to become and beginning to be all the rest of what we are meant to be.” (118)

And how does Ash Wednesday accomplish this? By speaking a very strange set of words over us.

“Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.”

What a bizarre thing to say to someone. But how freeing. You don’t have to have it all together. (You are dust.) But you do have this life to spend well, so why are we spending so much time and energy on _____? (And to dust you shall return.)

The first time that I was privileged to be part of a service where we practiced the Imposition of Ashes (was I an Impositor?) it was absolutely striking and unforgettable to say these words to each of the congregants as they came to the front. It was hard to say. I kept thinking, “I’m really saying, ‘You’re going to die’ … how is that helpful?” But as the experience continued I started to see the gift it was. Each one of these people were following Jesus in their own imperfect ways, constantly aware that they should “do it better” and here I was saying,

“It’s okay. You’re going to die. You’re not perfect. You don’t have numerous lifetimes to perfect this, you just have your one precious life. So if you’re expecting too much of yourself, let’s be a little more realistic. And if you’re not expecting anything, remember that you have a life to spend… and so let’s choose wisely.”

And so Ash Wednesday sends out the call to pay particular attention during Lent. Particular attention to the way we’re spending our lives. Particular attention to the Word of God. Particular attention to the journey of Jesus toward the cross. Particular attention to our souls and to being human. Chittister writes:

Ash Wednesday issues a challenge “to become fully alive, fully human rather than simply, grossly, abysmally, self-centeredly human.” (119)

And then Lent gives us the chance to remember who we are – who we are meant to be – and where we have come from. Lent’s reputation about being sad and sorrowful is only half true. It is also all about newness and a call to fully human living. As we walk into the season, may we embrace this call with our whole hearts.

What is Lent looking like for you this year? Are you preparing yourself or others for baptism? Are you fasting or instensifying a discipline? If you’re looking for ideas, I thought this was a fabulous list.

And as strange as it sounds, I hope someone blesses you today by reminding you that you’re going to die…

Chapter 15 Ordinary Time I: The Wisdom of Enoughness

(or the post in which I blog on the chapter I was supposed to last Monday…)

by Andrea Tisher

There was a long time in my life when the only two celebrations of the church year that I knew about were Christmas and Easter. Christmas was celebrated with a “Carols by Candlelight” service on Christmas Eve and Easter was a big extravaganza of “He is risen” hymns on a Sunday in April.

Christmas always started bef0re the fact, with decorations in the church and the addition of some carols week by week. Easter was a little more abrupt. One Sunday a year we declared emphatically that the Jesus who was crucified sometime back in history had risen from the dead.

The rest of the year was just…ordinary.

Turns out that my experience is not totally unlike the history of the liturgical year. Chittister reminds us that Ordinary Time used to be all of the time of the year that wasn’t Christmas or Easter. Now that the calendar is more complete, we have two major chunks of Ordinary Time. One between Christmas and Lent and another between Pentecost and Advent. This first Ordinary Time is shorter and seems to naturally be focused on the life of the man who was born in Bethlehem as we always know that Lent is not that far away (see last week’s post, Auden says it better). But Chittister rightly points out that this bit of Ordinary Time gives us a chance “to contemplate the intersection between the life of Jesus and our own.” (97) And after all the celebration of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, suddenly there is no distraction. No religious or liturgical actions to get caught up in… “Jesus was, is and will come again.” (99) And this is enough. And we’ll need a few weeks to sit with just this before we’re ready to journey toward the cross during Lent. The calendar gives us a little breathing room before then next bit of the story is told.

Ordinary Time: the time in the calendar when the simple truth of Jesus who was, is and will come again is more than enough.

Christmastide – or why Christmas isn’t quite over on Dec 25th: Ch. 14 of Chittister’s The Liturgical Year

By Andrea Tisher

The last section of W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio is my favourite. It starts like this…

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  (full poem here)

But I guess the question remains, what all is entailed in our celebration of Christmas. Is it Christmas Eve and Day and then, thank-you-very-much-I must-get-to-the-mall-for-those-Boxing-Day-sales, followed by the dread of a not very celebratory New Years and the impending credit card statement that will show me once and for all how ineffectively I managed to ‘show my love’ to family and friends, while still managing to live way outside my means?

For me, this is where the idea of Christmastide offers a layered experience of the Christmas story that enables me to stay in the story for a bit longer, perhaps in a similar way to how Advent allowed me to live by a different narrative than the countdown of shopping days til Christmas that the general culture observes.

Now, Chittister describes a series of celebrations that is still more than anything I have yet celebrated, but that gives me hope. There is yet more. Four more in fact:  The Feast of the Holy Family, The Feast of Mary the Mother of God. Epiphany, and The Baptism of Jesus.

I’m most familiar with the final two – those two dates that are not usually more than a few days apart, when I always feel the time swirling as in a movie montage. Jesus is a babe in arms one day – visited by the Magi, revealing Himself to the WHOLE world, not just a select group. And then suddenly, he’s a grown man, being baptized by His strange cousin John. Whoa. Did I miss something? But as the poem says, it is that “whiff of Lent and Good Friday” that is already in the air. We cannot linger at the manger forever.

But what of the first two, perhaps less-known feasts?

Again, the poem speaks to the Feast of the Holy Family if, as Chittister suggests, it is cause to ponder our own families… Even the least religious among us end up facing our families, or at least our memories of them during the ‘holiday season’. Auden writes,

attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.

And we marvel once again that God took such a risk, not only to become a human being, but to become part of a family. Perhaps it is opportunity to see Jesus in our own families?

Then, the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. This one is the trickiest for me. And, unfortunately, I don’t find Chittister very helpful. Perhaps one of you have some helpful experience or thoughts regarding what this feast is and why it adds to your celebration of the calendar?

But meanwhile, Christmas, when spread across a series of feasts, does take on a layered celebration that staves off both unrealistic expectations of a single twenty-four hour period AND invites us into a richer celebration of the birth of Jesus and all that it means for us and for the whole world.

How did you celebrate Christmastide this year?

A Sliver of Light: Chapters 13-14 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

By Stacey Gleddiesmith 

A few years ago my father, in an attempt to bring Christmas alive for his grandkids, created a nativity scene in our barn. There had been an unseasonable birth – a few Christmas lambs. We started at the house, bundled up against sub-zero temperatures, following the star (a flashlight attached to a long pole) as we sang “We Three Kings.” Arriving at the stable, we peeked through the door to find my sister-in-law cradling her baby, a lamb at her feet. A ewe and her lamb and one or two of our tamer cattle rustled in stalls nearby as we sang “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.” It was a holy moment.

What I remember most clearly, is the frail light of the flashlight illuminating our path and the faint glow from the stable window spilling out across the snow.

I was struck, as I read these two chapters of Chittister, by her description of the ancient hope for light: “light is more elusive than we like to remember. When the ancients observed the winter solstice, it was with thousands of years of fear that once gone, the light might not come back. It might not, this time, return to warm the earth or grow the seeds or prod the harvests upon which they depended for life” (p. 86). Today we are cut off from that fear. Our scientific knowledge assures us that the earth will tilt back toward the sun as it orbits, and that the days will get longer: that spring will inexorably follow winter; that summer will follow spring.

But imagine. Imagine the days getting shorter and shorter. Imagine watching the plants around you stop producing as the light fades. Imagine struggling to find feed for your livestock. Imagine watching your food supply dwindle.

Now imagine the first day you realize the day is a little longer. The first day you realize that the hold darkness seemed to have on the earth has been loosened by the tiniest sliver of light.

That is the celebration of Christmas. Our lives depend on it – on that tiniest sliver of light that we call the Bright Morning Star. The star that appears when night is at its darkest. The star that heralds the dawn.

I am amazed by the death and resurrection. It brings me to my knees. But I am left with my mouth gaping and my legs shaking at the thought that God – God almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing – considered it within his character to step down into the goodness of his creation, and into the darkness we made of it.

The feast of Christmas is not just a merry time to celebrate with friends and family. It is a realization of light. “Christmas is not meant to leave us with nothing more than a child’s perception of what it means to see a baby in a manger scene. It is meant to take us to the level of spiritual maturity where we are capable of seeing in a manger the meaning of an empty tomb. It is meant to enable us to see through the dark days of life to the stars beyond them” (p.88).

It is the frail light of a star, the faint glow from a stable window, that shatters the darkness that surrounds us: then, now, each year, and forever.

Facing the Light of Life: Chapters 11-12 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

By IanWalden

After a couple of chapters squarely focused on Advent, Chittister here returns to her habit of interspersing thematic musings between her considerations of specific feasts. All three of us are finding that these tend to apply to the nature of discipleship and spiritual practices in general, rather than the liturgical year in particular. So I’m going to take this as licence to focus on chapter 12, on Christmas – using chapter 11’s comments on ‘Joy: The Essence of It All’ as postscript and illustration.

Reading Chittister joyfully requires practice and patience, and chapter 12 is a great example! After five pages of what seem like irrelevant filler on the origins, dating and history of the feasts (East and West) of Christmas, she hits us with three pages crammed full of helpful observations, with some memorable one-liners thrown in for good measure.

Hers is a nicely ecumenical stance, emphasising what the West has to gain from the Eastern Church, and suggesting we see their feasts as one single celebration of Christmas/Epiphany, between them portraying four aspects of Jesus, Divinity in our Midst. He is baptismally-declared Son of God Almighty. He is Hope and Lord of the Nations, to whom eastern magi (and one day the whole human race) pay their homage. He is Lord of creation, transposing mere water into rich, intoxicating wine. And oh, yes – He is also manger-baby, thoroughly one of us in all our poverty…

This, then, is our first major feast of the year: “the clear manifestation of the One we follow.” It forces us “to recognize who it is that we, like the people of Jesus’ own time, will, in everything we do in life this year, either accept or reject.” It’s a shocking reminder that the God we have longed for in Advent is rarely the God we wanted; far less tame, far more apt to embrace humiliation, far harder to explain or answer, far sadder to hide from.

And yet this, like all the liturgical year, is (Chittister insists) really about joy. Good News of Great Joy, even. It brings us “face-to-face with life stripped down and effulgent at the same time, simple and radiant at once. Here in the Child is promise and meaning, purpose and potential.”

And these very things – “something to do, something to love and something to hope for” are the essence of joy, both human and divine. “At the very outset of the liturgical year, the church presents a model of them all: a Child who lives only to do the will of God, who opens His arms to love the entire world, who lives in hope of the coming of the reign of God by giving His life to bring it. At the very outset of the year, we are given the model of how to be happy.”

Here are a couple of questions to get the conversation started:

If Christmas is so multi-faceted, so awe-filled, so complicated, a “very adult feast,” should we even try to convey some/all of that to children? How? What do they take in, beyond the fun of lighting candles, dressing up, and swinging toy sheep round by the tail? Maybe that’s enough? What does it look like for a child to confront this Light, this Joy, for themselves?

Where have you seen Christ living out His joyful life recently? Especially from within his saints (even yourself) – what did it look like? What impact did it have on you as witness of it?

Chapters 9 & 10: Let’s start at the very beginning…

By Andrea Tisher

Advent. The beginning of the liturgical calendar. The darkness into which the light will dawn. The waiting. The anticipation.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s a time of other-ness. It’s the counter-season to the commercial Christmas that starts right after Halloween (oh, for American Thanksgiving that would give us one more holiday to hold out for before switching over to Christmas…).

Chittister goes so far as to say that the liturgical calendar helps us to plumb the depths of human experience, and that Advent starts with the basic and essential dimention of human life – waiting. She writes that Advent “teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious…Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.” (59)

And waiting does seem to me to be an essential part of the human experience. Life can be painfully slow at times, particularly as we wait for growth. Other people take FOREVER to change. And then we compare the pace they take with our own and realize that change in our own hearts is positively glacial. Waiting will turn out to be a necessary discipline.

But what are we waiting FOR? Surely it’s more than a chance to open all those presents amassing under the tree, or to feast with family and friends that we may or may not be excited to see. Advent reminds us of the big picture – of the three comings as Joan rightly points out. The coming in the past – the birth. The coming in the present – God’s presence in Word, Table and Community. And the coming in the future – the parousia or ‘arrival’, the time when the Kingdom of God will finally come into its fullness (from Chapter 10). The function of Advent then is not simply preparation or anticipation of the birth of Christ, but of the WHOLE story. Of the whole calendar. Of the whole of history. As Chittister writes, “Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life?” And I can’t think of a better time in our culture to re-adjust our perspective on the big picture.

How has your participation in Advent helped to ready you not just for Christmas, but for the coming of God into your present life, and for re-aligning that life to the reality of a Kingdom that is here already but not yet in full?

Belated Anticipation

My Christmas tree is still up. I’m ashamed to admit this, considering the liturgical season of Christmas finished a week ago. It is, however, but a symptom of a larger problem: how to live in the present liturgical season while reflecting on the previous season and planning for the coming one. It’s an issue that every worship leader faces, in one way or another.

So Christmas is over, Epiphany flew by, we’re now in Ordinary Time, and preparing for Lent. This cycle, I’m discovering, can be exhausting – even for the most experienced of us. I’m discovering that celebrating the Christian calendar (especially in a church that does not have historical liturgies on which to draw) requires incredible organization and foresight, not to mention ninja multi-tasking skills. And that’s when the rest of life doesn’t impinge itself on your planning and reflection process.

So – not only is my Christmas tree still up, but my church plans for Ordinary Time are unfinished, I haven’t reflected on Epiphany, and I haven’t even begun my personal plan of reading through the gospels starting last week. I’m tired. And lately this constant pressure to follow the Liturgical schedule feels heavy. I feel as if I’m on a treadmill with no emergency cord.

Yet, even as I feel stress gathering in my shoulders, and panic breathing down my neck, I’m aware that something beautiful is happening. The edges of each season are blurring, and the connections between them are becoming clearer.

Christmas, divine celebration of Christ’s birth, is essential to our understanding of the revelation of God (the Epiphany). God reveals himself to us in many ways, but the key way in which we know who God is, and how he behaves, is found in his Son, and the way he lived as one of us. And as I begin my plans for Lent, I discover that the key way in which God is revealed through Christ is in his death and resurrection – that God would become a servant (Christmas); choose to heal the sick, free the captive, and serve the poor (Ordinary Time); and submit to death (Lent) is a profound revelation indeed (Epiphany).

These are connections that were made by theologians long ago – and I have known them for years – but the belated anticipation of each season that I’m experiencing this year (as I reflect, and live, and plan for each season) is making them come to life. If I can live, somehow, with my feet planted in the present season, and my arms stretched between the previous and the coming seasons, if I can facilitate this stretched-out-way-of-life for my congregation, I think we will come to know Christ better. I think we will learn to know ourselves better.

So no, I’m not keeping up. I’m running back and forth like a maniac. But maybe that’s a good thing.

The Place of Humans in Worship Life: Chapters 7-8 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

By Stacey Gleddiesmith

To be honest (and the ninth commandment states that I should be), these two chapters are my least favourite thus far. Chapter 7 does, however, bring up some interesting discussion points, so I will spend the majority of my time there.

In chapter 7, Chittister addresses the place of worship in human life. Well, actually, she addresses the place of humans in worship life (thus my very clever flipping of her chapter title). She states that humanity struggles between two emotional magnets: abjection and arrogance (p. 44). Leaving aside the fact that neither arrogance nor abjection can be properly described as emotions (sorry, I found it hard to leave off my editor hat while reading these two chapters), this is, I think, an apt description of the human “problem.” Chittister phrases it this way: “Are we, in our humanity, something glorious or are we, at base, actually nothing much at all? Of the two alternatives, neither is really adequate; both are dangerous” (p. 44).

What Chittister is driving at here, is the human condition of being made in the image of God, but marred by sin; although, interestingly, she never quite describes it like this. Instead, Chittister chooses to describe the human condition without any real reference to scripture, leaving the impression that it is more a matter of arbitrarily assigning either good or evil to the human race. She doesn’t delve beneath the problem to its source: that humanity is good by God’s decision (being made in His image) and evil by human decision (having decided to reject that image and create a new image for ourselves).

What I like about this chapter is Chittister’s answer for this condition. She states: “Only awareness of a universe whose Creator is outside and above the boundaries of humanity can save us from either the curse of futility or the devastating consequences of self-satisfaction unfulfilled” (p. 46). Placing ourselves, rightly, under God’s reign, Chittister asserts, gives us both the assurance of being of value, and the humility of knowing that our value is not unbounded. Her position would be stronger here, however, if she had first gone to the root of the problem: God’s image tainted by sin. What is actually at work in acknowledging the lordship of Christ is that we place our value in Christ’s hands and recognize our need for his redemption. This addition would not, I think, contradict her position – but it would add needed depth.

Chittister then asserts that “it is this awareness of the place of God in life on which the liturgical year turns,” suggesting that the liturgical year not only allows us to walk the line between abjection and arrogance, but also to assist the world to do so (p. 46). Echoing Ian’s earlier comment in response to my post on chapters 1-2 (“is this ‘retracing’ of Christ’s own earthly life really the best/only way to make me a better disciple?” see full comment under  Have an Uncomfortable New Year), I wonder whether the liturgical year is the only way to do this. While I do agree that the liturgical year can be a valuable tool as we seek to understand our position before God, I think there are other valuable “helps” for this task, not least of which are the Spirit of God, and the word of God.

My final query regarding chapter 7 regards Chittister’s apparent definition of worship toward the end of the chapter: “Worship is the natural overflow of those who, with humble and grateful heart, understand their place in the universe and live in awe of the God who made it so” (p.48). While there is nothing “incorrect” in this definition, I am disappointed that Chittister doesn’t go further. By this point in the book, I feel that a more thorough working definition of worship (and how worship connects to the liturgical year) would be helpful. Worship is a wonderfully complex concept (as I say in my post What’s in a Word, I could study for fifty years and still only be able to say that I had begun to approach a definition for worship), but quick pat statements like the one above (actually, it’s more a statement about what drives worship than it is a definition) often encourage us to view worship as simplistic and static. This is, of course, one of my hobbyhorses – but I think it’s also a valid critique.

Finally, I would like to briefly address chapter 8, in which Chittister addresses the question of why different Christian traditions celebrate Christmas on different calendar dates. With my editor’s hat on, I would like to suggest that a full chapter on this subject was not required, nor is it helpful. Chittister basically argues that the exact historical date is not important, as we focus on the meaning of the event rather than its exact moment in history. This content could have been easily and quickly dispensed with either in the introductory material, or in the chapter on Christmas. Unfortunately, the expansion of this material into a full chapter adds confusion, as Chittister comes very close to implying that the historicity of Christ’s birth is unimportant, and that the incarnation itself is of lesser import than the death and resurrection of Christ. My hope is that the confusion this chapter creates will be resolved as we enter chapters dealing with the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ – as I don’t think Chittister would agree with the conclusions that chapter 8 might lead one to draw.

I’ll conclude this post with a few questions to my respondents (which could be anyone who is reading this – but definitely includes Ian and Andrea, my partners in this discussion).

  1. Do you agree that the inclusion of the concepts of “the image of God” and “sin” would have made chapter 7 stronger?
  2. What do you think of Chittister’s evaluation of the human condition, and how do you think the liturgical year addresses our condition?
  3. What is your own working definition of “worship”?
  4. And did you find something of value in chapter 8 that I missed?