Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wax On, Wax Off

After spending several days with a crowd of clergy, probably more of one mind than the average crowd, it occurs to me that one should not be allowed to tinker with the Divine Service or the daily offices until one has mastered them so that they have become instinctive.

For most of us, the daily offices of this conference were instinctive. We did not need to find a page in the hymnal or have liturgical directions given to us. What we needed we had gained by many uses of these daily offices. They had ingrained themselves into our minds and hearts so that each turn was instinctive and each subtle change as natural as a driver of a car moves the wheel to match the curve of the road.

The problems I have with those who mess much with the given service forms is that they do so not from the vantage point of a people who know them, who have used them until they have become natural or instinctive. They change them from the vantage point of a people who feel oppressed by them because they are not understood, they have not been allowed to flow naturally from the worshiper. In part this may be because of an almost instinctive resistance to the liturgy but more often, I would suggest, they are because of unfamiliarity with the form. It is a stranger to them, its direction is strange, and its road map is strange. Like following someone in traffic who is not really sure where he is going, they follow the liturgy without confidence in its direction and wishing that they were driving and not the Divine Service.

When we are so thoroughly familiar with the Divine Service and with the daily offices that we do not need the service folder or directions from the presider, then, and maybe only then, can we begin to think how we might change what is there. Unless and until we become so functionally familiar with these orders, I think we would be better off not tinkering with them at all.

The Deutsche Messe does not replace the sung ordinary with just any hymns. Why are some hymns appropriate and some not? If you do not know the answer (and it is not that Luther said these hymns and not others), then wait until you know the answer before you substitute. This is but one example whereby a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It would not be so bad if it were you alone who suffered, but when you drive willy nilly through the liturgy without knowing the path or where it leads or why it leads this way or that, you subject your people to your ignorance and your hubris. They become like the people following a car in traffic -- the car is driven by someone who is not so sure where he is going or how to get there and seems to forget that people are following him... The people in that car trying to follow are hanging on for dear life.

Well, there is a reason I say this... I am convinced that those who know where and why the Divine Service and the daily offices lead us in this way, will soon learn the wisdom of it all and will cease the attempt to control it and learn the art of making it authentic to the place and the people (through its own options and choices -- they are called rubrics)...

Remember the Karate Kid and how he follows the directions of the indomitable Mr. Miyagi... Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important. When we know what we are doing and why we are doing it, we don't have to fight it anymore...

Now that I have let off a little steam, I feel better. I hope you do as well...


Rev. Weinkauf said...

It was a joy to meet you. Amid theological weakness, errors, lack of Christological justification in contemporary worship, what often is not said is: my disable sister with mental infirmities; the elderly with poor sight or declining faculties; the blind; the child who can't read -cannot particpate! The weakest among us are not welcomed in contemporary worship! Lord have mercy and by grace may dwell in the liturgy. There, now I've let off some steam.

Janis Williams said...

Well said, Rev. Weinkauf! Fr. Peters has often commented how children in the Divine Service 'mouth' the words (even the Words of institution) as he speaks them.

I would also like to say the sung Liturgy is not only historical, but it is MUCH EASIER for all to learn (including we adults raised in a heterodox denomination). Why do we remember words to silly TV/radio jingles? Because singing is an aid to memory. Why did Luther put the Creed, the Commandments, etc. to music? Enough said.

Fr. Peters, maybe if these folk would learn what is as yet unlearned if they would just play a CD while they worked!