The Liturgical Calendar offers a great way for us to journey with intention right at home, but unless you’re a part of a liturgical faith tradition, it might be new to you, as it was to me a few years ago. In fact, although I’m enchanted by how the liturgical calendar infuses meaning into our everyday, I still have a lot to learn about it.
That’s why I asked Hilary Ann Golden, a pastor and our liturgical guide for this year (read her previous posts here), to write a post to answer the question, “What’s so important about liturgy?” and more more particularly, “Why is liturgy important for the pilgrim?” Read her answers and check out her great list of resources in her post below. -Lacy
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before: go kayaking in the Dungeness Bay off the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. I’ve been kayaking before, but never on a body of water this large and this unpredictable. I was constantly wondering, “What sea creatures are swimming underneath me right now?!” I also don’t do a lot of kayaking, so my upper body strength was not necessarily up to par with what was needed to complete the 6 miles of paddling my friends and I were doing.
Our midway point was a lighthouse at the end of the Dungeness Spit, a 5.5 mile long sand spit that juts out into the Straight of Juan de Fuca. As we paddled out to the lighthouse, I found myself constantly thinking about the lighthouse not as my destination, but as my guide. I was continually adjusting my route to aim toward the light house, sometimes rowing too far to the right or too far to the left. At times I found myself spinning and had to put my oars in the water, stop for a moment, and realign myself. Keeping my eyes on the lighthouse prevented me from getting lost, getting too far off of “the way,” and kept me sane when I thought I’d never make it to the end.
It clicked for me recently that this experience reveals a helpful way to talk about the intersection of liturgy, spiritual practice, and pilgrimage. Some of you might have read the posts on the various liturgical seasons here on A Sacred Journey and wondered, “What’s the connection here?”
The Greek word for “liturgy” is often translated as “the work of the people.” Liturgy encompasses the whole of the work of the people; in a worship service, this includes communal prayers, hearing and responding to Scripture, confession, participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion, music, etc…. But, liturgy is not confined to once-a-week public worship services. It is also (and maybe primarily) worked out in our daily lives through the ways we actively participate in and embody the story of the Gospel. It includes the practices of Christian life that happen in day to day life: reading Scripture, praying, practicing spiritual disciplines, singing, storytelling, creating symbols, participating in rituals, lamenting, and celebrating. James K. A. Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, considers liturgy to be the primary medium through which we are shaped as people of faith:
“Because our hearts are oriented primarily by desire, by what we love, and because those desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate, it is the rituals and practices…that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves toward the world.”
-James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
Liturgies in which we “inject [our] own living bodies” form us in what we love and how we love. Liturgy sets our sights and hearts on the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God by drawing us into a new way of seeing the world around us.
Understood this way, liturgy becomes a guide much like the lighthouse. By the help of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to be intentional, liturgy roots us and keeps our eyes fixed on the horizon. It helps us constantly adjust our route and it gives us something to aim for. When we arrive in those seasons of life where we constantly seem lost or aimless (and inevitably those seasons will come!), liturgy gifts us with a horizon.
The stories we tell bring us hope and connection. The songs we sing heal our hearts and fill us with joy. The prayers we pray give us new eyes to see and ears to hear all that surrounds us on our journeys. The Scripture we meditate on encourages us and challenges us. The disciplines we practice help us to be open and attentive.
1. Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community
This is my favorite and most frequently used prayer book, accessible and beautiful prayers. In the vein of Celtic spirituality, the prayers are very earthy, creative, and practical. It’s organization is a bit confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it works.
Common Prayer is a great resource. The book contains daily prayers for every day of the year, corresponding with The Liturgical Year. It also contains a song index (which I personally love!). The book is rather bulky, though. A great alternative, one that seems to work better for me, is the Common Prayer iPhone app. It takes you through the daily prayers, has links to the songs and links to the Scripture passages. One of the best features of the app is that you can set notifications to remind you to pray. I have mine set for 9am, 3pm, and 9pm. At $9.99, the app has a hefty price tag on it, but is definitely worth the cost.
“A New Liturgy” is a project from worship leader Aaron Niequist. There are currently 5 liturgies available for download, each following a particular theme. The music alone is worth the buy, but the whole of the project is compelling as well. You can find more info on this project at their website, anewliturgy.com.
4. Morning Prayer #reclaimthemorning
Morning Prayer is a website which provides access to the daily office from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
5. Pray-as-You-Go Podcast from Jesuit Media Initiatives
This is a new resource for me, but one that I quickly came to love. It combines music, prayer, and reflection questions in a meaningful 10-13 minute podcast. For more info, visit pray-as-you-go.org.
The blog of Thom Turner of International Justice Mission. He describes the blog in this way: “Everyday Liturgy is a weblog featuring original prayer and liturgy materials as well as thoughts on food, faith and family.”
What are the places or circumstances in your life where you long for the guidance of liturgy?