Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Planning liturgy for our life in the world

Last night our (bilingual) parish Liturgy Planning Committee met to look at an overall plan for Advent. Our conversation began with sharing how the current climate of rudeness, incivility, anger, and arrogance that has seemingly swept our nation in recent weeks paints an even-darker-than-usual-picture as we approach the end of the Church Year. (Kanye West grabbing the microphone at the awards, Michael Jordan badmouthing at his induction into the H of F, a US Representative yelling out that the President is a liar, and more.)

While our evening of brainstorming through the readings surfaced many possibilities for a response (many of them rooted in the behavioral prescriptions in the second readings - about how we are to be ready, pure and blameless when Christ comes again) we adjourned to ruminate until October in hopes of putting something "final" together by that time.

It came to me that liturgy planning for each season is not only for the current cycle of readings, for the time of the year, but also for responding to the signs of the times. In these times of egomaniacal rudeness, of raised fists at rallies and parents who are phobic that a president might "indoctrinate' their school-age children by speaking to them, with whispered warnings about racism, an economic downturn that is stressing and depressing... these are indeed the times that try our souls... the true signs that we are, and have been since the beginning of the life of the Church, in tribulation.

Advent this year comes, as always, in a dark, dangerous time. While we wait for the light of Christ to enliven us, the question is what do we do in the meantime and how do we do it in the dark?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fall Ordinary Time

In these waning days of summer, as we approach autumn, we continue to hear Gospels focusing on the teachings of Jesus. They are leading up to those final weeks of the liturgical year in November, when we will hear about last things and judgment.

When I teach people about the liturgical year, I often explain to them that Ordinary Time is when we are in storytelling mode: less about the narrative of Jesus's life and more about the ways he showed us what his mission was, and through what he did and said, about the kind of people he wants us to become. In that case, it's only fitting that the liturgical color of the season is green... symbolizing the season of growth in understanding of our discipleship in Christ.

During these next two months, the shade of green displayed in liturgical environments should perhaps deepen, "ripening" with the natural season, along with our growing understanding of what Jesus is calling us to do. When the end of the liturgical year, with its heavy imagery of harvest time comes - when we speak of the time when our souls will be "harvested" and gathered into God's presence, we will, in effect, step out of the green, growing time of our life, into the deep purple stillness of Advent, when we contemplate the Christ who was, who is, and who, at the end of time, shall be.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"All my thoughts are slow and brown..."

Over the past two months, as I continue to grieve the major loss in my life and reconfigure the contours and rituals of my own existence, I have occasionally turned to Edna St. Vincent Millay and the poetry of grief. Here is part of her poem "Sorrow" -

"People dress and go to town
I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
Or what shoes I wear."

Grieving the untimely death of a loved one can put one into the very depth of Paschal Mystery... that place deep within the tomb when no light yet creeps in. I have always said that when someone is in the middle of it, you cannot tell them of future light in a way that is meaningful to them. To be sure, there is comfort in hands to hold, in hugs, in shared tears and in good listeners. There is comfort in the liturgy of the Mass, while at the same time I am experiencing the urge to scream at God and demand to know the "why?" of this seeming betrayal.

This is especially true when the Word proclaimed begs me to argue with it. (Why when my "poor one" cried out, did God not deliver him? Or, more to the point, why did his deliverance from all his fears have to be into the arms of death?)

Worshiping God in the midst of grief has been a huge challenge - stretching me out of my self and into the public prayer. Asking me to praise and thank a God with whom I want to argue. It is a very human place to be: knowing on one level that God loves me, at the same time I am reluctant to agree to God's apparently revised plan for me and say "Thy will be done."

This all causes me to ask: how many people in our pews are in deep personal struggle? Does their presence at liturgy signify their acceptance of God's will, or does it merely represent their assent to the struggle? How does how well we celebrate as a community help them frame their struggle in terms of the presence and action of God in their lives? Is the ritual comforting to them or, like me, does it instead pour purifying but painful salt into raw wounds? Questions. No answers....