on liturgy as education

My brain is exploding.

SO STOKED to be pursuing the topic of “liturgy as education” in my Christian Spirit paper …

I’ve been a little down lately regarding a lack of liturgy – in words, specifically – that I am encountering in churches in Vancouver, mostly because I’ve grown to appreciate liturgy as SO IMPORTANT for the formation of the people of God.

The liturgy of a church, as I currently understand it, is the pattern of gathering within a church – and my concern is for the words which are spoken in this gathering. These words present welcome as a distinctively Christian act; they introduce prayer for the local gathering because we believe that as Christians, God is moved by our prayers. These words move us into the pastor’s teaching as exposing the word of God; they teach us how, as Christians, the sacraments are our life-source; they bless us in the name of the Trinity as we go out. I believe that these words shape us.

When we lose the spoken words of liturgy, I believe that we lose a critical opportunity to develop our affections,  and transform our minds and actions towards growth in our Christian identity. Without liturgy, the church gathering becomes a group of people who arrive in a space, join in chorus-singing, listen to their announcements, listen to a lesson, take communion and leave. Liturgy of the spoken word gives these events their significance. Actually, it even has a missional purpose – it constantly promotes a deeper embrace of the life they’ve converted to, for the people who are already Christians, and it tells the people who are not yet Christians what this life is about.

Practicing spoken liturgy means surrounding the events of a Christian gathering with words which tell about significance, importance, and why we’re doing what we’re doing … it means referencing the Biblical narrative and what point we’re at in it … it means communicating the character of God as the One in whose name we are being welcomed, and the One whose living and life-giving Word we are opening … it means remembering together who we are as part of the historical church and what the mission of God is … this practice of spoken word is VITAL.

We are woefully forgetful creatures. We mostly love everything other than God. We need to hear words which allow us to remember – and perhaps even more critically, we need to hear words which draw us to love.

As I’ve been scanning some sources in anticipation of writing this paper, I came across some books by philosopher James K.A. Smith. His top-seller (and one that you might know, is “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.”) In that book, he proposes the following:

What if education … is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of ‘the good life’ – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? …

What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?

Yes! I shall say it again. What if the point of liturgy can be understood as education – helping us see and embrace what life in God IS? Indeed, what if liturgy teaches us how to love?

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