So I commandeered one of my Mom’s books and it’s quite delicious. It’s called. “The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath” by Mark Buchanan. I want to share with you a lovely section on liturgy. It’s quite long, but worth your time. Buchanan is a gifted wordsmith who paints vivid images across the page:
“[Liturgy] certainly can become dull and rote, but so can anything–water polo, rose gardening, kite flying, even lovemaking. Even fly-fishing. Just as often, though, maybe more so, liturgy can enrich these things. At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality. It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions. It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth.
Our most significant relationships and events have a liturgical shape to them. They have rites of passage. Birthdays and homecomings, graduations and good-byes, Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, birth and death and marriage: all are marked by words and actions, songs and symbols, customs and traditions that enact them and complete them. And all these things also provide us with a means of entering them. What is a birthday without a cake, at least one candle burning on it, and a huddle of well-wishers, wearing clownish hats, singing in their ragged, hoary voices?
What is a birthday without liturgy?
What liturgy accomplishes is nothing short of astonishing: It breaks open the transcendent within the ordinary and the everyday. It lets us glimpse the deeper reality–the timeless things, the universal ones, the things above–within this particular instance of it….
…Liturgy is not law. This is important. The last thing I want to do here is return us to some parched and crabbed legalism around Sabbath observance. The beauty of calling Sabbath practice a liturgy is that nothing is violated if it’s not followed, or if it’s altered, expanded, abbreviated. No punishment ensues. Liturgy functions in a completely different way. Better to think of it, not just as a bridge, but as a kind of choreography, a choreography for our dance with things unseen, things ancient and things anticipated, things above and things below. Some move through this choreography with light-footed elegance, others with flat-footed clumsiness. You can add your own steps and moves, ignore others, or sit it out entirely. No one will arrest you.
But don’t you want to dance?
Don’t you want to push beyond mere idea and theory into the realm of the actual? I don’t know how many books I’ve read or sermons I’ve heard (and too many I’ve preached) that have helped me think better but not live better. Though many abound in insight, they are bereft of practicality. They never go far enough, the writer or speaker, for fear, maybe, of being legalistic, shies away from actually suggesting ways to embody the idea, the theory.
This is where liturgy helps. Liturgy is repertoire of possible ways–not the only way, or even the best way, but at least some way–to set what we know in motion. It lets us render thinking into doing, to pour our knowledge through our limbs. And it gives this with freedom both to imitate and to improvise. Though it describes a way of doing things, it never prescribes the way. Each person on each occasion is free to mimic what has come before, and free to innovate it. Each occurrence of liturgy is unique, unrepeatable, and yet is also enfolded with all the other occurrences. My dance will be both similar to and different from yours. It will echo yours, but with its own style, and rhythm, and pace.
So think of the Sabbath Liturgy sections in this book as choreographic notes. They are not to be followed slavishly. They are hints and prompts and invitations. They’re meant to try to coax you onto the dance floor, to help you limber up, to get you to move in ways you might at first think awkward or foolhardy. But who knows? After much practice, you might come to like it, even finding yourself, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, floating above the hard, cold floor of your workaday life, your feet barely touching.”