Sunday, July 26, 2015

A little too exubrant. . .

It is typical for us to confuse exuberance with truth, as if shouting something makes it more true than speaking it in a normal tone of voice.  We often substitute volume for reason, shouts for piety, and enthusiasm for faith.  Now there is nothing wrong with these but it is a great temptation to confuse the work of the Spirit with things ecstatic or a people out of control, noisy, and long winded.  This is not a new problem.

Cyprian wrote about it as well: 
Let our speech and our petition be kept under discipline when we pray, and let us preserve quietness and modesty–for, remember, we are standing in God’s sight. We must please God’s eyes both with the movements of our body and with the way we use our voices. For just as a shameless man will be noisy with his cries, so it is fitting for the modest to pray in a moderate way. …

When we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we should remember our modesty and discipline, not to broadcast our prayers at the tops of our voices, nor to throw before God, with undisciplined long-windedness, a petition that would be better made with more modesty: for after all God does not listen to the voice but to the heart, and he who sees our thoughts should not be pestered by our voices … And we read in the Psalms: Speak in your hearts and in your beds, and be pierced. Again, the Holy Spirit teaches the same things through Jeremiah, saying: But it is in the heart that you should be worshiped, O Lord.
Beloved brethren, let the worshiper not forget how the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple–not with his eyes boldly raised up to heaven, nor with hands held up in pride; but beating his breast and confessing the sins within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. … and he who pardons the humble heard his prayer.

                                                                   (from the Commentary on the Our Father by St. Cyprian)

It is easy to confuse many words with great piety.  Indeed, I often wonder if the liturgy is not too wordy.  An economy of words is the result of attention to what is said and how it is said.  It is easy and lazy to make up for a lack of this attention to what is said and how it is said by adding words.  Nothing makes this more apparent that when we add running commentary to the liturgy.  It is not uncommon for the individual parts of the service to be introduced with more words than are included in the actual part of the ordinary.  An example of this lies in the many words necessary to unpack the few words of the Kyrie:  Lord, have mercy.  Good hymns are just as concise and compact as the language of good liturgy.

We are very impressed with enthusiasm.  Think of the often raucous demeanor of a crowd at a sports event or high school graduation.  Air horns, shouts, chants, loud music, and catcalls signal the involvement of the crowd in what is happening on the field or on the stage.  That said, how many events are ruined because of enthusiasm that has run a muck, turning the event into a spectacle and robbing the spectators of the ability to listen and see what is really happening.

Worship, however, is meant by God to  be done decently and with reverent order.  Now this solemnity does not preclude enthusiasm but directs the hearts and mouths of the people to orderly response, said or sung.  God is not a God of chaos but a God of order.  Reverence is not formality or stiffness but an attention to order which allows all the people to participate together both in receiving God's gifts and responding to them with prayers, praise, and thanksgiving.

Silence has become awkward time instead of the quiet moment in which we have the opportunity both to reflect upon and process what has been said or sung or what we have received.  Our great temptation is to replace silence with noise, with words or music as a cover for the silence.  Often this is done because we refuse to be silent and the organization of words to be said or the cover of music played distracts us from the background noise of a people who cannot shut-up and be quiet.  Indeed, the greater offenders here in most worship services are not children but adults.  We text, talk, whisper, and comment out loud on everything that is going on as if everything required a response from us or our feelings compelled us to make them known.

Finally, how easy it is for us to confuse noise with eloquence!  If we attend a worship service which has quiet dignity, organized response, and moments for silent reflection, we assume that it is dull or unexciting -- especially in comparison to the spontaneous and disorderly appearance of pentecostal services.  Yet under it all is the confusion of whose voice is the one that needs to be heard.  We speak because we think we have something to say and a right to be heard or to self-expression when we are hear primarily to listen, to hear the Word of the Lord, to believe it, and to be instructed by it through the ministry of the Spirit.  As in the classroom, we have mistaken inclusion to mean we can say and do what we want, when we want.  Even on Pentecost, the myriad of languages was in essence one voice:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.   

In fact, St. Paul reminds us that the language of worship and its reverence and order exist to make it possible for each and all to add their "amen" to the praise and prayers.  I am not at all suggesting that we should substitute boredom for enthusiasm but to remember that just because things seem to be hoppin in our minds does not mean that they are faithful.  The truth remains the truth whether it is shouted or prayed quietly.  Pep rallies and political arenas often substitute what is loud for what is profound.  Let us make sure that we do not do the same thing in worship.  Some settings for worship have become as much a threat to the ear as to the heart when what we do and say puts us in the limelight more than God and His mighty acts of deliverance that gives us forgiveness and life.

1 comment:

Kirk Skeptic said...

Are you suggesting that choirs and solists be pushed aside for some silent reflection? The how are people supposed to be entertained and the "gifted" given their attention? This sounds seditious...