Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Patience in short supply . . .

A while ago I watched on and off as an Eastern Rite Roman Catholic bishop was installed into his eparchy.  It was a long service -- I did not watch the whole thing and the remote got a workout as I tuned back and forth to and from the rite.  It was fascinating to me because it was so long -- yet everyone seems thrilled to be there despite the length.  I was struck by the mix of ages and the fact that they stood for the whole time.  The music was archaic to the modern ear but it was well sung and well received.  The music took up a goodly chunk of the time devoted to the liturgy.  Even though an iconostas obscured much of what was going on the people did not seem to mind.

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.

10 comments:

John J. Flanagan said...

When I was a Catholic Altar Boy many years past, I remember well the long Solemn High Masses and rituals of the various services, constant standing and kneeling, prayers in Latin, responses in kind, the reverence of the experience.....BUT...somehow God gets lost in the ceremony, and most people were tired and relieved by the end of the Mass. As a Lutheran now for the past several years....I do not want to go back to ceremonial worship and long winded prayers said without brevity and conviction. I do not believe God wants insincere and laborious worship.....better to be done with such ceremonial pomp.

Unknown said...

The problem, John, was with the people and you, not the Solemn High Mass itself. Of course, in our age, it's always someone else's fault. Look at yourself first.

And since when do brief prayers mean greater conviction? Are you talking about the prayers where the pastor ad libs frequently mentioning "Father, God" with lots of "uhs" in between each word. I've said the Communion Prayers of St. Basil for years and they are long, but are replete with the Gospel. You're just an impatient person, but of course, you're not the problem, someone else is. If Lutherans were to return to their ancient heritage of worship, like what you find in teh 17th and 18th centuries, you'd probably ditch Lutheranism altogether for Methodism or the Baptists.
--Chris

John J. Flanagan said...

No, Chris, I am not impatient, and there is absolutely no chance I would leave Lutheranism for Methodism or join the Baptists. You must admit that some Pastors can be long winded in their prayers, and I feel this includes preachers in other denominations as well. I believe, and you are free to disagree, that this borders on the long prayers Jesus referred to as common among the Pharisees. When Our Lord taught the Apostles how to say the Lord's Prayer, he did not suggest a lengthy speech. A brief prayer spoken with meaning and sincerity, and devotional in style, and honest in substance is far better than an eloquent and wordy expression of vain piety.

Unknown said...

Again why do you assume that if something is long, it is therefore vain? If you need short prayers its because you have a short attention span. So, again, the problem is you. The psalms are prayers. You ever read those? Some go on for pages and pages. Are those vain? Might want to bring that up with the author. And jesus condemned vain repetitions, never lengthy prayer. Are you then saying that the Prayer of Manasses is therefore a vain prayer? You're exactly the type that lutheranism does not need. It is your type that has become the majority and forced confessionals out. I became Greek Orthodox. Time for me to pray the vainest of all prayers, Psalm 50, because its longer than five sentences. Chris

John J. Flanagan said...

Chris, my brother, you are making your comments into a personal attack against me, and you do not know anything about me. I have merely stated a personal point of view, and you are free to hold your own opinion. Yet, you go on and on stating I have a short attention span, and that I am "the type that Lutheranism does not need."
I am not referring to the Psalms or the prayers in the Bible, but I was referring to public prayers that go on and on when a shorter prayer would be more appropriate. I think you have issues, and one of them is you are likely a legalist in your spiritual style, and you are quick to argue with others. My attention span is quite good, having a college degree, straight A grades and Deans list for most of my education, and I believe my views need not conform to yours in order to be considered a Lutheran.

ErnestO said...

The words of Charles Spurgeon seem to fit the train of thought to this posting, please accept in Christ --------------

December 18

Morning...

Joel 2:13

Rend your heart, and not your garments.


Garment-rendering and other outward signs of religious emotion, are easily manifested and are frequently hypocritical; but to feel true repentance is far more difficult, and consequently far less common. Men will attend to the most multiplied and minute ceremonial regulations-for such things are pleasing to the flesh-but true religion is too humbling, too heart-searching, too thorough for the tastes of the carnal men; they prefer something more ostentatious, flimsy, and worldly. Outward observances are temporarily comfortable; eye and ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up: but they are ultimately delusive, for in the article of death, and at the day of judgment, the soul needs something more substantial than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon. Apart from vital godliness all religion is utterly vain; offered without a sincere heart, every form of worship is a solemn sham and an impudent mockery of the majesty of heaven. HEART-RENDING is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul-moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer. It is not a matter to be merely talked of and believed in, but keenly and sensitively felt in every living child of the living God. It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud unhumbled spirits are unable to receive; and it is distinctly discriminating, for it belongs to the elect of God, and to them alone. The text commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour's voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.

Unknown said...

John,

Someone, anyone who is committed to the worship as prescribed in the Confessions is NOT a legalist. In your mind, I suppose, the Reformers were legalists. I don't like screwing with things because people, like you, do not have the attention span to deal with it. Brevity does not mean more pious or more devout or whatever. And what public prayers are you referring to? The Prayers of the Church? The Collect? What? Or are you talking about spontaneous prayers with lots of "uhs" and "Father God" and other dribble like that? IF the latter, I'm certainly with you. But if you're lopping in the Prayers of the Church with those then you have no ally in me.

And before you list all of your awards and accolades again, those are irrelevant.--Chris

Kirk Skeptic said...

Why can't we have both sincerity and conviction on one hand, and complete thoughts in well-crafted English? What is the Divinely-sanctioned verbiage tally for public prayer? As such I"m with Chris.

On the other hand, just because we're not face-to-face doesn't mean we can be rude and accusatory. Methinks Chris should try some Christian charity.

Anonymous said...

John, the crux is to what must our views and beliefs conform if we take the mantle of the reformers, who were evangelical and catholic, and of course the answer is our Symbols. What do they say about worship and prayer? This is what we conform to. This is how we subvert our opinions and points of view to dwell together in unity with each other in the body of Christ. See the following blogpost.

John J. Flanagan said...

According to you, Chris, disagreeing with your point of view automatically makes others guilty of short attention spans. How very UnChristian of you to put down others instead of just making a focused argument based on the merits of your position. Perhaps, you might go back and read the Psalms again, and try to be more Christ like in your dealing with others, like using less sarcasm and personal attacks. And yes, some of the Reformers were legalists in ways that lacked humility. Reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther did not get everything right, and reading their biographies proves they were human, as in Luther's anti-Semetic views and Calvin's refusal to stop the burning of a recanting heretic, when it was within his power and prestige to halt his execution. Nevertheless, you are free to say long prayers and I am free to measure my words when praying to God, and it does not mean I have a short attention span, but rather it is God who judges me, not you, or those who must dictate how we should pray.