Friday, January 25, 2013

Participate by listening. . .

Every now and then I get complaints from parents that there is nothing for their children to do in the liturgy.  Often these come from parents who have their own ideas about what should be happening in worship more so than from their children.  In fact I have found that children, especially small children, are very attentive to the liturgy, to the postures of worship, and to the practice of our piety (that is, if they are not consigned to the last pew and actually can see something).

Anyway, I digress.  The point that we have forgotten is that we participate most of all not by doing but by listening.  Listening seems to be a forgotten virtue in worship today.  We prefer being entertained (not the same as listening) or to be given something part to play and something to do.  But listening is the first and primary way that we participate in worship. 

The liturgy is hardly more than sung and spoken Scripture -- much of it word for word from the Bible.  Even when we speak and sing it, it is not for the benefit of the God who is the Word made flesh, the Word through whom all things came into being, and the Word who will on the last day pronounce full and final judgment.  He does not need to be reminded of what He has said.  We sing and speak it back to Him as the highest form of worship and in the speaking and singing what is operative within us is the hearing of that Word. 

Paul well reminds that faith comes by hearing -- hearing what? -- the Word of God.  Listening, that is hearing with faith prompted by the Spirit, is the highest form of worship and that which serves as prelude to the reception of the Word in bread and wine.  Yet, as is so often true of us, we disdain the very thing that is most important.  We participate in the liturgy most of all by listening.

It is to our great regret that we are hardly satisfied with this part of the divine drama of the Word and Sacrament.  We think, to our weakness, that unless we are doing something to impress God and to show off before others, nothing is really happening.  This is the great and fatal flaw of a sinful nature, so curved in on self as to see everything from the vantage point of me and what I want.  Yet listening is participation.  It is the first level of participation and it involves not merely the mechanism of the ear working well.  It involves the heart and mind.  We listen not to hear words but to hear the Word.  We listen not to say we have been there and done that but so that the Word made flesh might dwell within us in the manger of our hearts and minds, doing what He has promised to do.

If there is one wish I had for me and for those in my parish, it is that we might rediscover what it means to listen, of the worship that participates by listening, and of the hearing heart and mind that ponder with Mary "What does this mean?"


Anonymous said...

You wrote:

"The liturgy is hardly more than sung and spoken Scripture"

I remember this from the 1941 hymnal:

"10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a rightb spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit."

Not even the LSB hymnal has as many lyrics as quoted from the Bible as the 1941 TLH. O well, maybe we will have to wait another 25 years for the next hymnal to be published.

Unknown said...

Want a good way to foster listening? Get rid of bulletins and orders of service with every Proper text for the day spelled out. Bulletins encourage reading, not listening, reading, but not praying.--Chris

Anonymous said...

*I agree that our society wants to be entertained. So sad, but true. Listening takes concentration (i.e.:work).
*I agree with Chris.....get rid of the printed programs/order of service. Listen or use the hymnal liturgy.