15 May 2015

Missing liturgy

A while ago, I reflected on whether it was possible to be homesick for a place I have only been once. I concluded it was eminently possible: Canterbury Cathedral has so stamped itself on my heart that I know I will never truly be the same. It is the heart of our ancient faith in England (although not the oldest place of worship there), a place of worship and pilgrimage and seeking for more than 1500 years.

I knew when we came home that it would be difficult to come back from the visceral, whole-of-body, whole-spirit experience of cathedral worship in the UK: where the very stones seem to be painted with prayer and the whole place shimmers with the organ and the bells and the singing; incense, beeswax, body and blood. Immersive church, where everything is done excellently, reverently, and with holy purpose.

Sure, it's not perfect: they've only just figured out that women are called to the episcopate too (we're 25 years ahead of them there!) and the language is seriously patriarchal - but there is hope in the movements of inclusive church that that will change. What won't is the desire to do all things "decently and in order", with love and passion and skill.

What I have realised is that I need that liturgy done with love and passion and skill. I need the music and love and prayer and holy purpose. I need the Office, the daily round of prayer, painted on my heart like light through stained glass. I need this. Liturgy done poorly, bad music, trite lyrics - I cannot separate myself from it. It becomes like sandpaper on my soul, grinding me in all my most tender places.

Some people might say this is me being overly sensitive, too "high", not being "of the people" - snobbish, even. But for me, worship is not of the people. It is our gift to God, and should it not be the best of what we are capable? It should be the best music, the best singing, the best words, trusting that God, by some alchemy of her own, will make them worthy of her worthiness, for nothing we offer God will ever be enough. But it should be beautiful.

And when it is not, then it is time to listen to what my heart says, what my spirit knows. I cannot return to Canterbury, but our pilgrimage there has shown me my heart. I need to be honest to myself and I cannot hide any longer.

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