Andrew Sullivan posted a quote yesterday from an interview with Jamie Quatro in which she gives a beautiful rationale for the importance of liturgy in worship.

Quatro says,

There’s a sense in which we need ritual. We crave it at a physical level; we inhabit a universe that operates according to ritual: sun up, sun down; work, rest, play, work; summer, fall, winter, spring. There is joy in the rehearsal of the known, the familiar.

Raising children is a great reminder of this: they thrive on routine, love tradition.

And without ritual, there can be no mystery—how can the unexpected enter into a life that is devoid of expectation? Ritual opens the door for revelation. We move through ritual and performance to access the Divine.

Yoga teaches this: when we know the poses—when they become habit, motor-memory—we can more quickly access the state of heightened awareness that is beyond the physical. The ecstasy. I find the same to be true with liturgy. The more I practice it—when it becomes part of the fabric of my being—the more quickly and completely I can move through it to approach the Divine.

Liturgy is the embodiment of the steady faithfulness of God. Faithfully followed liturgy reminds me at a cellular level that beneath the surface turmoil and chaos that characterize so much of life, there beats a reliable rhythm that holds when all else seems to be falling apart.

Liturgy acknowledges the reality of the world William Butler Yates  described when he wrote in the aftermath of the First World War, that

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. (WB Yates “The Second Coming” 1919)

But, in the face of Yates’ apocalyptic pessimism, liturgy dares to declare that, while it may be true that “Things fall apart,” in fact “the centre” does hold. In liturgy we refuse to be defined by those “things” that “fall apart.”

I am connected to a long deep stream of tradition that transcends the painful flux of human affairs. My life is part of something that has existed before I came into being and that will carry on long after I am gone.

Liturgy challenges the predominant individualism of our culture. It does not depend upon personal taste or passing fashion. We do not need to create our worship anew every day. We can find our place in the long tradition of worship that extends down through the ages bearing witness to the power of God to which people have opened across vast generational and cultural divides.

Liturgy is not concerned primarily with doctrinal conformity. There is no test administered before participation is permitted. There is no exam at the end. Liturgy only requires participation. I am included because I choose to enter the rhythm and action of the divine choreography in which we share.

We participate by using common words. We sit or stand together. Our voices blend in song and our bodies move in an agreed upon pattern that transcends the differences that might otherwise appear to separate us.

Liturgy creates space for the true, strong, deep self that I most truly am, to begin to emerge. It functions in the realm of eternity. When I give myself to the words, music, poetry, and mystery of liturgy, I move outside the frantic time-bound realm in which I feel so often trapped. I affirm a whole different set of values than those that hold sway in the normal routines of most of life.

It is not so much that I “approach the Divine” in liturgy, as that I become conscious of that Presence who permeates all of existence whether or not I am aware. When I give myself to the flow of liturgy my heart begins to soften and open to the Reality that is there even when I may be distracted and unconscious.