Sunday, February 7, 2010

No Worship Today

On a typical February Sunday morning at about this time, I am walking the halls of a cavernous contemporary building with a fistful of bulletins and my keys. I move systematically from room to room, turning on the heat in the library and the kids room and the choir room, in the parlor and the Youth Room. I unlock the secondary doors with my key, then go to the primary entryway and plug in the 16 digit passcode to unlock it. The bulletins get put in place, and I kick on the lights in the sanctuary.

This would all have happened between nine and nine fifteen. But today, I'm at home.

On that same typical Sunday, right about at the instant I'm writing this, I'd be rehearsing my message, thinking about wording and the slide transitions in my Keynote presentation. As a sudden realization of a new and necessary slide popped into my head, I'd drop it in after googling an appropriate jpg. A few minutes from now, I'd do some worshiper recon. I'd check in with the praise leader, pass some pleasantries with an early arriver, and take a quick look to be sure the wireless mike still had juice. I'd set out my laptop and my bible. I'd return to my office to pray and meditate...or to scamper around trying to resolve some last minute problem.

Not today. Today, my little car can go no farther than the end of my driveway. There, a full two feet of snow sits. My neighborhood is utterly impassable, with the exception of full sized four wheel drive vehicles and human beings walking down the tracks those vehicles have left. Beyond my immediate locale, the city itself is floundering, as helpless as a cat tossed into a snow bank. I ain't goin' noplace.

If my church were within a mile or so, I'd walk there. But it isn't. Even our local Jesus MegaCenter, which runs worships with the precision of a Special Ops mission, has canceled all activities for today. So today there will be no service of worship.

Do I miss it? I do, for a variety of reasons. I miss the rhythm of it, the pattern of it, the "time-set-apartness" of it. Lots of folks, particularly amongst my fellow progressives, are fond of saying that anything can be worship. We progs can worship sitting around talking about social justice and Thich Nat Hanh and the Green Party while we drink strong coffee or home-brewed beer. Lots of other folks, mostly evangelical-ish, also like to say that you can be a Christian 24/7. Just keep the contemporary Christian music crankin' on your nano. You can worship sitting on your barcalounger watching Joel Osteen on the TBN at 2 in the morning with a Bible and a Red Bull and a bucket of Double Butter Blast popcorn. It's all worship, baby.

But I'm not sure how true that is. Ritual sometimes gets a bad rap among both the emergent and the contemporary evangelical crowd, but it's a part of human existence for a reason. Patterns of ritual behavior help change our awareness, to set us into a frame of mind that is different from our standard patterns of being. It is those patterns that give us a sense of the sacred and the holy. They signify for us that this time is not normal. That's why we set aside both time and space for worship.

We can do this on our own, of course. We can practice mindfulness, and engage in prayer and patterns of awareness that can change the character and flavor of even the most mundane task. But those rituals are better and stronger when they are not just a reflection of us, but a community. Very few of us are called to a hermit's faith, even though our culture of isolation often drives us into that challenging spiritual place. Even introvert I needs the witness and presence and engagement of others to pull me beyond myself and into a deeper relationship with the One who made me. The ritual that affirms just can't happen today.

Instead, I'll find a few moments to pray. I'll stay mindful as I shovel, and as we check in on neighbors, and as I watch the morning sun sparkle a thousand diamonds across the snow. And I'll look forward to next week.


  1. This is my first time visiting or reading your blog and, well...this entry was rather heart-warming. Thank you - there aren't many people who have this viewpoint remaining, or at least there don't seem to be.

    I've been looking online for good quiet times or bible studies and I've found a few snippets and pieces. For the most part, however, I've been listening to CCM and browsing. This is my substitute for worship while I am stranded at school (and actually having spent the night at a friend's house - we walked here). Then I vaguely remembered you saying that you posted your Sunday sermons somewhere, so I came looking and found this. ^^

    Anyhow, I thought I would leave a message, considering most people just sort of skim and move on and I really enjoyed reading this.

    Oh! Also, my father is kind of grumpily adorable: he left me a voicemail at 9:30 this morning saying, "Rachel! Are you still sleeping!? Get up and pray!" all said rather gruffly and angry-sounding. But for some reason, it came off as really cute. Hehe.

    Take care and have some hot chocolate with your kids (hot milk with cocoa powder or real chocolate melted [+ cinnamon, vanilla extract, and just a touch of cayenne pepper powder] is about as close to heaven as I think we'll get here on Earth. ^.~)

    Much Love,

  2. Stay safe, Rev. Williams! At least you're stuck in doors and off that bike. ;o)

  3. Same here in Philly. 28 inches of snow are just too much for these folks to handle. No worship.

    And you have problems with bikes? I fell off mine, broke 6 ribs, got a contusion on my lung and a concussion. Of course going downhill at around 60 mph and falling off will do that to you.

    What's your bike story?

  4. That WAS a year and a half ago. I'm fine now. Really.

  5. @Pastor Bob: Glad you recovered! I haven't wrecked since I got caught out in an ice storm a few years back. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Always check the weather.

    I almost...almost...made it where I was going. Just a few bruises, though turnsignals and fairing did not do so well. It helped that I was only doing 25, and wearing some serious gear to boot.