Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Patience in short supply . . .
The vestments were heavy and hot but no one, including acolytes, fussed with them. They were vested in different colors and styles (especially the headgear of the clergy). Yet no one seemed to notice this seeming contradictions. There was an ease about it all -- an informal formality -- so that even though it was long and they did not have a neat little service folder or hymnal to guide them, they were content. They knew those leading the worship knew where they were going and when they would get there (and they were content to join in the journey of that liturgy).
Both in terms of rite and ritual, Western Christian liturgy is remarkably different from Eastern. In the West we tend to focus on the words -- printing out every word spoken and then following the well scripted service from service folder or hymnal. We tend toward more uniformity -- even rehearsing the rites so that we are all always on the same page. We are much more concerned with and economical about the time we invest in worship -- especially as Lutherans who spare the ritual and the ceremony for a more compact and cerebral worship experience. Sometimes I think we could learn a thing or two from our Eastern kin. I am NOT saying we should adopt their liturgy, architecture, music, or ritual BUT I think it would be good if we would learn from their patience.
We are many things on Sunday morning but we are seldom patient. We don't tolerate much wandering on our liturgical journey and prefer a more direct and faster paced pathway from beginning to end. We like a quicker gait to the music and the words. We tend to have a single focus on what happens in worship and who is going it. We want to watch (liturgist, assistants, choir, etc.) and we expect to have something good to watch (a good show). We like it when each one does his or her own part and things move along quickly. We do not tolerate silence well. If there is a pause in the action, we tend to think somebody missed his cue.
In other words, we are not very patient people in the pews -- or in the chancel. This is not a good thing. We tend to race through worship toward the finish line and dinner at Cracker Barrel. If we don't, we tend to get restless. I guess I am also guilty. Many of us do not feel all that much guilt about demanding that things stay focused and head quickly to their conclusion on Sunday morning. We should feel more guilt about rushing through to the finish line.
Perhaps this is merely a symptom of our problem with God. He is patient -- even long suffering. He has the long view always in sight while we see only what is directly in front of us. We confuse His patience with ambivalence -- and God is not ambivalent! I think it would be a good thing if we learned some patience from our Eastern kinfolk and paid as much attention to the middle as we did to rushing the end.