Monday, December 10, 2018

Is Liturgy Good?

Is the liturgy a good thing? Does it draw people into a space of more self-awareness or God-awareness? I guess it depends on the person and their experiences. When I was a young boy, I was taken to church by my parents (Mom mostly) and heard for example “The Lord’s Prayer” weekly. It didn’t do much for me, mostly because I just wasn’t interested—not interested enough in God, or in my eternal destiny. Fast forward a half-century: Many Sundays at Trinity, we hear the “Collect for Purity”:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I really appreciate hearing this regularly, and though I suspect part of my appreciation stems from its novelty—I didn’t grow up hearing this regularly—I hope that it will continue to touch me in the years ahead. I hope these words never roll over me ineffectually, but always move me toward self-examination and self-awareness, and toward awareness of God’s loving presence.

What do I think is so great about this prayer?

First, it reminds me that God indeed knows me, as Psalm 139 and Hebrews 4 testify, the latter more emphatically: “And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are open and naked to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

How do I feel about God knowing my thoughts and even my subconscious desires and intentions? On one hand, it’s intimidating (which isn’t completely bad; as we read in Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”). On the other hand, it’s also a great comfort; I need never worry, “What if God finds out?” He already knows, and loves me anyway.

It’s important that I be reminded of this, because forgetting it leads to all kinds of evil: vain, unkind, envious or unforgiving thoughts; reckless words that pierce like a sword (Proverbs 12); and so on.

After the acknowledgment of God’s omniscience, we’re offered the opportunity to agree with the request to God: “Cleanse the thougts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.” We want to breathe in the Holy Spirit (whose name also means “breath”) and thereby be cleansed.

About whether my thoughts need cleansing: do I agree with Psalm 19, “May …the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you”? Meaning they often are not? Yep.

Breathing in the Holy Spirit—how does that cleanse my thoughts? If I’m aware of the Spirit in me, if I allow the Spirit to remind me of God’s love for me, I won’t be so focused on wealth or status. I’ll have more power to clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. I’ll be better able to forgive others and more willing to serve them. My thoughts will be cleansed and will be more pleasing to God, who loves me more than I deserve.

And the point of this transformation, this growth? A life so filled and driven by the knowledge that God loves me that it’s also filled and driven by my love for God in return. And if I love him and think about his love for me, I’ll have a better chance of being my best self.

And as I become my best self, I magnify God’s name in my life.

A worthy goal.

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