Even though I grew up in a wonderful church that discipled me very well, I was not introduced to the classical elements of worship until my high school days and beyond.
I attended just a handful of Catholic masses during high school, and I found them to be beautiful! So reverent, so worshipful, treating God with such a sense of “highness” and elevation… I always left those services feeling a greater sense of awe towards God.
Into my college years, I was introduced to more forms of liturgy, from episcopal to presbyterian forms. I also joined a United Methodist Church in college, and there I recited my first creed during a Sunday worship service.
After spending the first 18 years of my life in a traditional evangelical setting (Southern Baptist), then 2 years in what I would call a medium-liturgical setting (an old school UMC), the past 13.5 years have been in a more contemporary/modern worship setting. And honestly, I have enjoyed all three (there I go, making worship be about my enjoyment…). What I really mean to say is, there is a special place in my heart and spirit for all three of these different worship expressions.
But there is something significant that happens in the more classical / ritualistic worship traditions when our bodies are constantly engaged in the elements of the service. In hour’s time, we stand, kneel, sit, stand again, bow, sit down, kneel again, stand, and so on…
James K.A. Smith deals wonderfully with this topic in a great article titled “Redeeming Ritual” (it is very well-written and an easy read – check it out!). In it, Smith reminds us that in the Sunday morning worship service, we are training our minds, our spirits, and our bodies – our whole selves – for the ongoing (day-in, day-out) worship of God.
Some of my favorite quotes:
- “Ritual recruits our will through our body.”
- “Rituals are not just something that we do; they do something to us. And their formative power works on the body, not just the mind.”
- “Spirit-charged rituals are tangible ways that God gets hold of us, reorients us, and empowers us to be his imagebearers.”
- “Through our immersion in it, the gospel sinks into our bones. We absorb the story of God’s grace in ways we don’t even realize.”
We are creatures of habit, and our spirits very often follow our bodies’ lead. Thus in training our bodies to do something, along with our minds to think something, or our mouths to say something, we are preparing to encounter life as a whole person dedicated to God.
It’s the same reason athletes train and practice. It’s the same reason fire fighters and soldiers constantly drill. So that when the real thing happens – in our case, when life happens – we will respond from our training, from our practice. Our rehearsed “rituals” from worship will ooze out of the pores of our everyday approach to living.