Saturday, July 26, 2014

Can't, Have Trouble With, or Won't. . .

The same gesture (or lack of it) can say different things.  In the same way, the intention behind the gesture can say many things.  I recently read some liturgical instructions issued by a Roman Catholic bishop to his flock.  In it, among other things, he addressed the change from a genuflection before the tabernacle to a profound bow.  It was a perfect example of how something exceptional became normative (exceptional here meaning against the rule).

...a profound bow — made purposefully and reverently from the waist — can be a fitting way to reverence the Divine Majesty, but only if one cannot genuflect, which is not always the same as having some difficulty genuflecting...

We have come to equate the inability to do something with the dislike or distaste for doing it with a difficulty doing it.  They are not the same, as the good bishop noted.  Incapacity does not relieve the individual from the duty but merely prescribes a different form to fulfill the duty.  The person who cannot walk, for example, is not exempted from genuflecting but satisfies the duty with what he can do -- a profound bow.  Truth be told, anyone who has trouble walking would gladly genuflect over and over again if with it came the restoration of his ability to walk unimpeded.

Difficulty doing something means that it is not impossible to do but requires much effort and perhaps the endurance of some pain to do it.  It is my experience that those with difficulty doing something tend to try to do it no matter what.  I have written before of an elderly woman who labored to kneel in worship and, when offered the chance to bypass the liturgical posture, refused to give up trying.  Some might say pride was the reason but I tend to believe it was genuine piety.   The Lord who endured such pain for us deserves more than a perfunctory effort on our part.

Dislike or distaste for something is very different.  The person here does not seek to fulfill the duty at all.  It is, in many respects, an act of defiance against the duty.  I refuse to genuflect (or bow or whatever).  The problem here is not the failure to genuflect but the attitude that refuses the reason to genuflect. 

Lutherans love to insist that we are not bound by such rules as the bishop wrote about.  We don't hafta do nuthin!  On one level, it is true.  But underneath our insistence upon liberty in all things is often hidden a refusal of the duty.  How often I have heard people say "God would not want you to be uncomfortable..."  Baloney.  Our defiance of God can take many forms.  We may refuse the outward actions of piety that honor Him and His presence (no bowing, kneeling, or genuflecting for me!).  Or, we may refuse to believe that God is worth our discomfort in any way, shape, or form.

I do not worry about people's inability to do something or even their difficulty.  I trust them in both cases.  But what does worry me is our refusal to believe that God would want us to be uncomfortable.  That is a defiant act in which we have placed self-interest and personal preference above all things. And it is all too common today for us to equate personal comfort or preference with that which glorifies God.  Ultimately this is not about standing, sitting, kneeling, or genuflecting but the insistence upon something being found meaningful for us before we will accede to doing it.  It certainly has had profound implications for worship but it is not limited to worship alone.

It is good to be reminded that inability, difficulty, and the refusal to do something are not at all the same things.  It would also be good for us to examine our hearts and come before the Lord with repentance for the pride that insists we don't find something meaningful or the arrogant belief that we don't believe God would want us to be uncomfortable in our Christian faith, piety, worship, and life.  For us as Lutherans, this hits pretty close to home.


Timothy C. Schenks said...

When I was an acolyte years ago, they told me to make a profound bow when approaching and leaving the altar, and a short bow when crossing in front of the altar. I don't think anyone does that anymore.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Timothy, it does still happen--at our parish, at least--and by anyone who passes before the Altar, not just the acolytes. Interestingly, we did have one member of the Altar Guild who said regarding it, "No one's gonna make me bow to anything!" Needless to say, she left years ago; but her words still stand as a strong witness of pride and arrogance of our sinful human natures. Blessedly, we know as Christians that, one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Thank God there are still those of us who gladly and knowingly practice for that Day!

Anonymous said...

What Pastor Peters has written here is right on the mark. It also bears extension to the manner of dress we wear to Church.

Those who insist on casual wear, or even beach wear, do it for their comfort, as they usually admit. The idea that our comfort is significant in the eyes of God, who sent His Son to suffer and die in agony for us, is truly absurd.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Janis Williams said...

Spot on, Fr. D! And there ARE shoes that are as comfortable as flip flops. We don't wear hair shirts, but we sure like to scratch our itches!

Kebas said...

The excellent Roman Catholic architect we hired to design our new sanctuary [] in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota (who chaired their diocesan building committee) resisted our request for a Communion rail. Finally he blurted out, "Why would you want to install one of those? I've spent the last 15 years ripping them out of every church in the diocese." Likewise, when the local Roman Catholic priest came to tour our new sanctuary when completed, his first comment was, "You put in a Communion rail? In a new church? Why would you do that?" He explained that rather than kneeling as a sign of reverence when receiving the Sacrament, members of his church and throughout their diocese now receive the Sacrament only in a continuous line, and show their reverence by a slight bow before receiving the host. Ironically, our former sanctuary (now the parish hall) did not have a Communion rail, and when our members were surveyed that was one of the most requested features for a new sanctuary.