This week I am on retreat at the Society of St. Margaret in Duxbury, MA. If you are unfamiliar with the Sisters of St. Margaret you are missing out, seriously. Before coming on retreat, I decided to take a break from all things internet. I’ve been good about that, minus a little checking out what’s going on in the world of Facebook. The time I would normally spend surfing the web, I’ve spent reading and writing. I had no idea how much time I spent on the computer!
One of the things I’ve finished reading while here in Duxbury is a fabulous book by James K. A. Smith:Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. If you are active in any kind of ministry in the Church – particularly formation or liturgical ministry; lay or ordained – you must read this. It isn’t that expensive, go to you favorite book buying venue and buy it. I am clearly a fan of Smith’s book, because I agree with his thesis.
So now dear reader, here are my initial reflections to Smith’s work:
Before we had a systematic theology, before the Canon was in place, we had liturgy. As humans we are lovers – we are, as Smith often refers, animals of desire. As is clearly exhibited in looking at the secular liturgies [liturgies in the sense of formative practices] of our lives, the mind cannot overcome experience. One way Smith explains this analysis is by sharing the story of a young college freshman; who goes to college looking for an experience of the mind. What she finds more powerful, more transformative, is the experience of the body.
We come to desire the kingdom of God not by readying about it, but by experiencing it: By worshiping in the beauty of holiness. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Sound familiar? What Smith writes about, his thesis, is, in my opinion, the fundamental character of Anglicanism. It is not about information, it is about formation.
We must worship, we must participate in liturgy because it is our only hope at a counter-formation for the secular liturgies of the world. [Before Smith gets into the heart of the book (Chapter 5), he goes into an extensive exegetical section on secular liturgies.] These secular liturgies include: the mall, sports and entertainment, and the university. While Sunday morning is the core of our liturgical practice, it is not enough. An hour to an hour and a half a week – however compact and intense that time is – cannot serve as a proper counter-formation to the nonstop, 24/7 secular liturgies of the world around us. In this way, Smith calls for a new monasticism.
Smith’s call for a new monasticism, calls us to find community in our daily lives for regular corporate prayer, study, and the abstention, or at least minimization, of participation in secular liturgies. He defines what this new monastic community could look like in the context of higher education – in the context of university life. (As a side note, I wonder how well seminaries go about providing for this way of life?) Smith’s description of new monasticism is what I’ve been thinking about for the last 48 hours. How can I take this monastic experience with me into the everyday details of my life?
I have been asked why I take liturgy so seriously. I, like some of my peers and colleagues, have been told to lighten up and be less serious. After reading Desiring the Kingdom, I now have something more to say than, “I’m sorry, I simply can’t do that.” I cannot do that because as Nathan Mitchell wrote, “In liturgy as in life, the stakes are high.” This is our chance to counterform the world. If we do not take liturgy seriously, what does that say about what we believe? When we do not give proper care and attention to the details of worship, what does that say about the kind of people God is calling us to be? What does it say about what we desire when we spend more time at malls, watching TV, at sporting events than we do in prayer – in corporate worship?
We are lovers, animals of desire, a people called out and choosen. We do not fill our innate needs or desire by simply reading and studying. We are fully human when we participate in liturgy. What is it that you desire? Look at the liturgies you participate in. What kind of person are they forming you to be? What are they training you to desire?
Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. As we worship, so we believe, do we live.
Here endeth my rant.