Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some more crankiness...

I was reading Elizabeth Scalia the other day about how she and her brother prefer the sacred silence of the week day Masses without music to the over stimulation of the Sunday Mass with the cantor bellowing and notes intruding into every spare moment.

"...are missing is the sense of reverent anticipation that used to precede Sunday mass when, in the spare minutes before the processional, people used to kneel and collect themselves; they gathered their thoughts, remembered an intention, let go of what was frivolous and finally sighed a big, cleansing, quieting breath in preparation for the great prayer of the mass. If people spoke at all, they whispered; they were reverently aware of Christ present in the tabernacle and considerate of their neighbors at prayer..."

I suspect that her beef is less about music than it is about the culture of the Mass and, indeed, of worship in every tradition anymore.  We are so full of ourselves, too full of ourselves to shut up and pay attention to something other than our wants, our feelings, our aches, our need to comment, and the shallow attention spans so prone to wander.  It is a common complaint.  I feel it, too.  Some Sunday mornings I just want to scream at the top of my lungs 'FOR GOD'S SAKE, SHUT UP!"  But I do not.  That would not be friendly.  People would get offended and they would leave.  Income would drop with attendance and people would blame me. That does not stop me from wanting to scream... and I think at least half the people present would welcome my scream from time to time.

The offenders of sacred space carry their casual me-oriented perspective to the opera house, the symphony, the movie theater, and every where else they go.  They are not rude or self-centered only in Church.  So, as much as I would like to scream, I know that scream would not accomplish much more than offending a few folks (well, maybe more than a few).

Scalia has her foot on it.  We have no sense of reverent anticipation for the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament.  We feel no need to prepare other than to rush in at the last minute, engage in some friendly chit chat with those around us, and then look at our watches because the whole God thing it taking a big chunk of time from our busy lives and stealing some of our precious moments of happiness.

I suspect that music is used in part to cover up the din of not so muffled voices, books dropped, kneelers banging, pages turning, purses sifted through, cell phones for texting or talking, and watch alarms going off...  I know that is the case here.  Funny, though, that the louder the music gets, the louder the offenders talk.  You just cannot win...

The problem, however, is not attitude or behavior.  The problem is sin.  Sin is what insists that nothing is more important than what we are thinking, feeling, desiring, or doing at the moment.  Not even God is cause enough for us to turn away from self and quiet our hearts and minds and lips so busy with stuff.  The problem is not finding a worship service more quiet or attentive to sacred space.  The problem is repentance.  The call of God through His Word and the Spirit's address all meet us on the sacred ground of our self-absorption and work to teach us that this is not freedom at all but the ultimate bondage.  How many times haven't we commented on the common complaint of youth - I am so bored (check out the .com version of this complaint).  We are bored because we are boring.  God is the only surprise in life and that surprise is grace that bestows upon us grace we do not deserve and mercy that keeps from us the punishment justly ours for our sins.

Strangely, the folks outside the church seem to get this more than those who are churched.  It would seem the longer we are in God's House the more casual we are about our presence there.  It is as if God's House were a rec room (old parlance) or family room (new style) in which pleasure is the name of the game.  Some of those who are the worst offenders in my congregation are those who have been in God's House the longest and the one with this local address.  Is it no wonder that Luther calls us to a life of repentance and not to repentance as a single act.  This daily and ongoing act of repentance is what is needed before the mood of worship will gave way from the me at its center to the Thee of God.  When we finally encounter the One who is completely other yet wears our flesh and blood in the incarnation and delivers up His gifts to us in the means of grace where ordinary become sacred by God's transformation and gracious purpose... well, then the good sense of sacred space and holy anticipation will be restored to us -- for that moment.  You see, this is not something we achieve but something about which God daily calls to us.  It is never a goal we reach but one we will always be seeking as long as we wear this flesh and blood.


Janis Williams said...

I would add my "shhhh!" to silence those who are disrespectful enough to blab during the prelude (yes, even the music). It is not there to 'cover' talk, but to point our hearts in the right direction.

It seems that too many of us take the prelude as the time in which we can get those last few comments before the service 'really' begins.

Phillip said...

We have found at Bethany that having no music preservice actually helps. The organists do play a brief prelude, which cues the acolytes to come out and light the candles, after which the pastors appear and join the acolytes in reverencing the altar, but that is it. I know that preservice music is intended to point people toward Christ by amplifying treasured hymn texts, but most people even in confessional Lutheran church don't really know the hymn corpus OR how to listen to classical sacred music. However, they do respond to silence by joining in it. I find also that when the prelude is finally played, there is a palpable sense of preparation for worship amongst the assembly. I know this an exception in our churches, but just wanted to encourage folks that it is possible to nurture silence & reverence in worship. It just takes time. 13 years ago, Bethany was fairly chatty before church. Now it is much better. And I particularly notice the difference when we have large numbers of visitors (confirmation, large baptismal parties, day school graduation). On those occasions when we have large numbers of guests, the noise is quite noticeable.