Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

I began my series on Listening in Two Directions a couple of weeks ago, with a post about the importance of preparation, and how preparation enables attentiveness during delivery. This week I want to begin talking about the sound toward which our right ear should swivel. If we think about leading worship as serving our two-fold “audience,” God being one part of that audience, what does it look like to serve the Spirit, to listen to the Spirit, through the whole process of worship leading – and what are we missing when we fail to be attentive in this way? Before we dive into the three parts of worship leading – planning, practice, and delivery – I want to offer two caveats and give a general picture of why it is important to listen to the Spirit in every stage of our preparation and delivery.

First caveat: there are no hard and fast rules regarding how the Spirit speaks. In fact, as with all conversations, we each interact with the Spirit differently. So please don’t take the examples I lay out in my next few posts as the one way in which to hear God’s voice while planning and implementing a worship service. The corpus of Scripture shows us, intentionally, a variety of individuals and groups who hear from God in a variety of ways. We should never foist the ways and means of our own relationship with God on someone else.

Second caveat: my underlying assumption in this series is that the Holy Spirit always points beyond Himself. My husband calls the Spirit the shy member of the Trinity – because the Spirit always points to Christ. So, to phrase a complex concept simplistically, we know that we have heard from the Spirit when we are pointed toward Jesus. And we serve the Spirit best by doing the same – by pointing beyond ourselves to Christ.

To some extent, then, the reasons we listen to the Spirit as we lead worship are obvious and hardly need to be stated. Of course we need to pay attention to God – the whole point of worship is to pay attention to God. In fact, everyone should be listening for the voice of the Spirit, not just worship leaders. Worship leaders (and pastors, for that matter) are not super-hero Christians who take people and bring them to God. God always reaches toward us – every one of us – first. Every single one of us needs to be attentive to this reaching. To learn to hear the Spirit’s voice, to see the Spirit pointing toward Jesus as we enter in to gathered worship, and as we worship during the week through our work, in our homes, and through our relationships.

As worship leaders, however, we do have a sacred task to perform. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are invited into the process of God’s constant calling; God’s constant drawing of his people toward himself. If we don’t actively listen for the Spirit’s direction and respond in service to the Spirit we will miss this invitation. Worse, we may become an obstacle to others hearing and responding to that invitation.

The tendency of worship leaders is to drift toward one of our two audiences: God or the congregation. If we fail to listen for the Spirit, we will forget who we worship and our gathered worship will no longer be spiritually formative. If we fail to be attentive to the Spirit then we are leading nowhere and to no one – we will simply follow our own preferences and thoughts and hope that the Spirit will use them. And he very well may use them – but how much deeper, how much richer would the worship of the Church be if worship leaders actively listened for the Spirit’s voice, and joyfully accepted the Spirit’s invitation to join God’s work in his congregation?

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation

Last summer my husband and I took a class at Regent College on public speaking. Like pretty much every course Regent offers it was carefully researched, thoroughly prepared, and well delivered… in this case by Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Stackhouse describes public speaking as a gift: the goal is to serve the audience to which you are speaking. To give to them the knowledge, the motivation, the passion, the change you have to offer. Thus your audience must be the focus of your preparation, of your practice, and of your delivery.

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit, Allan Old, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit, Allan Old, Flickr Creative Commons

My brain has a secret “worship theology” setting that is always at a low hum in the background, so this started me thinking about the two-fold “audience” in worship leading. What does it mean to focus in two directions – to focus our preparation, our practice, and our delivery on our congregation and on our God simultaneously? I’ve often described a worship leader’s primary task as one of intense listening – to the congregation and to the Spirit, but the idea of this listening being present throughout the process of preparation, practice, and delivery – while not entirely new to me – has caused me to consider the idea more deeply.

In my next two posts I will explore what it looks like to listen to the Spirit and to your congregation, respectively, but I want to introduce this idea with a further word about preparation.

One of Stackhouse’s key points is that preparation frees up brain space during presentation. If you prepare well, then you can adjust to your audience as you present, shifting to better engage their attention, sensing and responding to difficulties they might be perceiving in your material.

Now, in the world of worship leading, I’ve heard and read a lot of arguments for and against preparation. Usually these arguments pit careful and rigid preparation against the spontaneous and loose leading of the Spirit. On the one hand we have those who meticulously plan every chord, every note, every word. On the other hand we have those who don’t know what song they’re going to sing until they start singing it. This, of course, is a false dichotomy.

You cannot listen to the Spirit without preparation. And the Spirit should be present in every step of your preparation. Also, both a complete focus on the Spirit during delivery and a rigid understanding of preparation as controlled by the worship leader ignore the roll of the congregation in gathered worship. The helpful truth, I think, lies (as it so often does) somewhere in the middle.

Stackhouse’s point regarding public speaking is apt. We prepare because being well-prepared, well-rehearsed, frees up brain space during delivery, giving us the capacity to engage in active listening even as we play and sing and speak. So we prepare well – not so that we can do everything exactly as it has been prepared – but so that we can be free to adjust as the Spirit or as the congregation needs us to adjust.

Think about it. If you’re playing a new song – or if you’re new to an instrument, or to leading itself – isn’t it true that your brain is mostly scrambling for the next chord pattern, the next progression, the next string or key or note? You don’t have the capacity to think beyond the immediate mechanics of the moment. Now, there will be some weeks that are simply like this. You will need to introduce new songs. You can’t mentor a new musician or leader and not expect them to begin with a training period during which the majority of their thought life is taken up with the mechanics of what is happening.

But, as we mature, as we become comfortable with a corpus of music and familiar with the mechanics of leading a band or playing a solo instrument, as we grow in our knowledge and interpretation of Scripture, our weekly planning and preparation should be such that when we get up to lead, we are able to focus not on mechanics – but on the voice of the Spirit, and the movement of the congregation. We should be able to serve our two audiences more fully – ensuring that our worship leading is not just music, not just words, but a gift.

Our Shepherd in Heaven: A Liturgy

To be read in one of two ways: bold print read by the congregation, light print by a reader; or as an antiphonal reading, with one half of the congregation reading Psalm 23, and the other reading the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father in heaven,
The LORD is my shepherd,
Hallowed be your name,
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me, all the days of my life.
Give us today our daily bread.
I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.
I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Amen.

A Season of Thanksgiving

This Sunday, September 22nd, our little church entered a “season of thanksgiving.” Every Sunday from now until Advent, several members of our congregation will stand up, before our congregational prayer time, and name some of the things they are thankful for at this point in their lives. Nothing fancy. Just simple thanks. This is my introduction to that season.

Thanks and HopeMy parents moved recently. This, of course, means that all the boxes that I have stored, out of sight and out of mind, in my parents’ attic for x number of years have come to light – and have come home to roost in my garage. As we sifted through some of their contents, I came across a small disco ball with a tiny pair of Japanese shoes attached to it.

When I lived in BC – 3 years before I moved back to BC to attend Regent College—I went through a deep period of depression. There were a number of circumstances involved, but chief among them: I had just returned from a two and a half month trip to Ethiopia. I returned on an incredible high – sure that God was going to move in my life, sure that big things were going to happen. And they did. Our house burnt down, my childhood home. I had to resign from my job in a very messy set of circumstances – without a safety net. I was unemployed for more than six months, living in my friend’s parents’ home, with no idea how to move forward in any aspect of my life.

It was winter changing to spring at that point. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada, this means grey, grey, grey, grey, grey. The weather was no help at all.

I can’t remember how I ended up with my little disco ball. Did someone give it to me? Did I see someone else with one, and track one down for myself? I don’t remember. But I hung it from the rear-view mirror of my little Subaru. Not, I think, with any real purpose; I may have thought it made my car look cool.

And then – one day – the sun broke through the screen of grey. And my car was filled with all these little dancing points of light. And I was so thankful. So thankful just to see the sun. Thankful every moment the sun shone. That little bit of thanks, those little points of light, kept me going through a very dark time.

Then I went to Japan for a year. Again, when I came home I was convinced I would participate in big things. Momentous things. I didn’t. I ended up living back at home with my own parents. With minimal employment. In the middle of a long, cold Albertan winter. Again unsure of how to move forward.

I hung up my little disco ball again – this time adding to it a little cell-phone charm I had purchased somewhere in Japan. A little pair of shoes: a little pair of Geta – Japanese flip-flops (although they are usually made of wood, and so are neither flippy nor floppy) – summer shoes. They reminded me that all I had to do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other; they reminded me – spring will come, darkness will end, winter cannot last forever.

Thanks and HopeThese two things – the disco ball, my little pair of flip-flops – were the only two things that came out of those boxes immediately. Much to Andrew’s annoyance I hung them in our new car immediately, realizing that I need that message again: thankfulness, hope.

I wondered if others might need the same message: simple thankfulness, quiet hope. So we will spend some weeks together, in Bon Accord Community Church, simply telling each other the little things – and sometimes the big things – that make us thankful. Maybe there is some small item, some reminder that can hang in your room, sit on your bedside table, or hang from your rear-view mirror to prompt you to thankfulness, and to keep you putting one foot in front of the other.

We want to be a church, we are a church, that is honest with each other – that lets the cracks show – a church in which the answer to “how are you?” does not always have to be “fine.” Because sometimes you’re not. Sometimes I’m not. But sometimes the darkness that we face, and even the little annoyances we deal with on a daily basis, can become so overwhelming that we see nothing else. We lose sight of the good. We can’t see any more that the sun is shining. But it is! And taking the time to notice that little good might push the darkness back a bit and help us to refocus.

It may be that some of the things others are thankful for are things that you lack. Things you want – maybe desperately. I know that will certainly be the case for me. That’s ok. Because we all, every single one of us, have something, somethings to be thankful for. And if we can be a church that both cries with those who mourn and laughs with those who rejoice – then we will always be a place of welcome. And you might find, maybe you will find, that by taking a moment to celebrate what someone else has, and you don’t have, some of that darkness lessens in you as well. Because it’s out there. There is hope. And even if the sun is not shining over you right now. It’s there. And it’s as bright as ever.

So…
…………………………………………………………………………..
I am thankful for sunshine.
I am thankful for my body:

it will never be on the cover of Vogue, but it works—in a basic kind of way—well enough for me to function and to get things done. I can walk, and run, and jump, and almost reach the highest shelf in my kitchen. I’m kind of happy about that.

I am thankful for my friends and family:

Too many people to mention. None of them are perfect. But they are all a joy – at least some of the time.

I am thankful that I am greeted with joy, exuberance, and great hairy wagginess every time I come home:

Finn (our dog) is pretty great too. ;) Andrew and I have walked through some pretty dark moments together, but somehow we still find the time and energy to be silly with each other. And we still find the time and energy to get out and walk with our dog. I’m so grateful.

Finally, I am deeply thankful for this church:

for the warm, generous, and occasionally raucous crowd we have found ourselves in. And that they have graciously allowed us to lead – even experiment. I am humbled and so very grateful for the opportunity to be here in Bon Accord.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

How about you?

Advent Readings, 2012

 

 

This year our church is moving through John 1:1-18 for the four weeks of Advent and for our Christmas Eve service. We will be exploring the themes of creation, light, home, glory, and becoming. Each service will begin with a full reading of John 1:1-18, and before the sermon we will use the following readings as we light our Advent candle – followed by the singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel (without the chorus – until we get to Christmas Eve, at which time it will be sung raucously and with great joy several times over!).

 

First Week of Advent, December 2: Creation

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your life: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you, there is nothing. You are our life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful for your life. We see you everywhere we look: in the beauty you have created, in the relationships you have given us, and in the many blessings we have received from your hand. But we do not live in the fullness of your life. We turn back, time and time again, toward our own sin—toward death. The world you created is mired in oppression, injustice, pain, and death—and sometimes we wonder where you are. You were there at the beginning. You are here now, even in the midst of our darkness. Living God, we long for you to come again and bring the fullness of your life. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Congregation Sings: verse one only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

Second Week of Advent, December 9: Light

John 1:4-8

4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your light: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you, there is only darkness. You are our light.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful for your light. We see it in the eyes of our children, in the kindness that we are shown, and in the many blessings we have received from your hand. But we do not live in the fullness of your light. Too often we shade our eyes and turn away toward the overwhelming darkness: toward famine, and sickness, and war. But you said “Let there be light“—and the darkness was shot through with the glory of your presence. Bright Morning Star, come again into our darkness and declare the night over, and day begun… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: verse one and two only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

Third Week of Advent, December 16: Home

John 1:9-13

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your home: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you we have no home. You are our home.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful that you have made your home with us. We find you at home in our conversations, in our actions, and in our thoughts. But we do not always feel at home with you. We do not always recognize you. In the midst of strife and conflict, in the middle of illness and pain, we often don`t see you for who you are. But you have come, and you are coming. You have made us your family, and we long for you to come and live with us again—to sit at our table… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: verse one, two, and three only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

 

Fourth Week of Advent, December 23: Glory

John 1:14-18

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your glory: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you there is no grace or truth. You are our grace and truth.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful that you have revealed your glory to us. We see it in the words you have left for us to follow, in the friendships you have granted us, and each time another person turns to you. But we do not always live according to your glory. Sometimes we look around us and we sink into despair. We are defeated by the suffering and delusion all around us. But you have already won the victory. We long to see your victory brought to completion. Lion of Judah, come quickly to shatter our despair with your grace and truth… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: verse one, two, three, and four only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

Christmas: Becoming

John 1:1–18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

 

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of our faith in you. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you there is no faith. You are our faith.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we have waited so long. And still we wait. But on this day, on this night we shout into the darkness and declare the victory of your light. For you have come. And by coming you have made us into something more than simply a people waiting in darkness. You have given us your life. You have given us your light. You have made your home with us. You have revealed to us your glory. You have made, and you are making us. You put on human flesh like a robe—wore our fragility like a cloak about you. But more than that. You are fully human. Vulnerable. Weak. But more than that. You are fully God. Powerful. Victorious. Holy God. Lamb of God. Jesus. Thank you… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: all verses of  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” followed by several repetitions of the chorus.

Silencing Worship (Q&A)

Q: Corrie Gustafson asked me to reflect on silence as worship, silence in worship, and why we aren’t so good at it.

I started taking Suzuki piano lessons when I was four years old: a method that emphasises the importance of listening as a means of learning and expression. Within the first few years of my training, as I blundered through a piece as quick as my chubby fingers would go, my teacher stopped me. “Listen to the silence,” she said. You have to listen to the space between the notes – pay attention to the rests – before you can hear where the notes need to go. This is one of the skills that separate a good musician from a great one – the ability to play the silence as well as the tones. To actually heed the rests – considering them not simply as empty space, but as giving shape to the music.

It’s hard to listen to silence in a world that surrounds us with noise. Every store, coffee shop, restaurant we enter will inevitably have music blaring. Many of us turn off our home stereo or TV before leaving the house and switch on the radio in the car. We walk from place to place with ear buds in our ears and iPods in our pockets. I have a theory as to why our culture is obsessed by constant noise: I think that we equate silence with stillness, and we equate stillness with death – of which our culture is pathologically afraid. In order to push death back, we surround ourselves with noise and keep moving.

But it’s not just our culture… Hands up if there’s music playing when you enter your church; hands up if once the band starts they transition musically or with words from song to song; hands up if you hear more words during the sermon; hands up if the music then plays you out into a crowded hall or entry way…

Even in gathered worship we sometimes forget what the music is doing, because we can’t hear the silence between the notes. Our music can become noise if we don’t pay attention to the rests in the score. Corrie asked about silence as worship – and I love that phrasing. What we’ve done by taking silence out of our worship is remove preparation. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Ps 37:7). Remove stillness as an active response to God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Remove the awe from our approach to God. “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab 2:20). Silence can prepare your congregation for worship. Silence can give them time to ingest the word of God. Silence can provide times of confession. Silence can be a way of letting go. Silence can be a means of rest.

BUT…

Silence without attentiveness is worse than noise. We cannot just throw silence into our worship services and expect that our congregation will follow (remember we’re all fighting against our culture here). We cannot simply observe silence without – as in music – carefully attending to its length, and its intention. So here are a few things to remember as you add intentional silence to your gathered worship.

  • Consider the length of silence very carefully. You might have to build up your congregation’s tolerance. Most congregations can handle about 30 seconds comfortably. Definitely push beyond this, but don’t push too far too fast. There are times when a silence as long as 5 or 10 minutes may be appropriate, but this must be carefully instructed, and will probably be seldom.
  • Always let your congregation know it’s coming. Whether it’s in an order of service, or on a screen, or a verbal instruction – the congregation must be warned. Otherwise, all you will accomplish is several minutes of uncomfortable rustling while everyone wonders who dropped the ball on the next service element.
  • Always let your congregation know the intent of the silence. If you want them to prepare themselves for the worship service – tell them that on paper, on a screen, or verbally. If you want them to simply rest – let them know. If you want them to spend time in confession, or praise, or digestion of God’s word – give them a heads up.

Despite my lengthy instructions, it’s not difficult to incorporate silence into a gathered worship service. It just takes some intentionality. It takes viewing silence as a valid means of worship. It takes a counter-cultural push against cultural fear. It takes attentiveness to the space between notes – so that carefully crafted silence can bring to life the music that surrounds it.

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.”