Q: When liturgies no longer work how do we remain wholehearted? When old prayer forms don’t carry richness and resonance, how do we handle inbetween spaces?

Cynthia Bourgeault:These are not the same question.

I hear a lot about how the old liturgies don’t carry it any more. What do you do with the violent Psalms?

This is putting far too much emphasis on the form. What I’ve seen over and over again is beautiful souls taking old forms and filling them with the light of love. They have learned how to hold it and still convey energy through it.

We are still too focused on the words and the cognitive content and not enough yet on the energy and intentions flowing through the liturgies.

We need to de-program our minds. I have seen people go through and take every “he” out of every God-language thing, yet people are still angry; they’re still defensive. It’s not the fix for what we want. The fix has to do with the deeper and undivided energy of love that can flow through any form.

The forms are not the problem; the energy they are containing and evoking is the issue, which means, if we’re bringing a new energy, we can take even the most ancient of forms, and imbue them and even with theologies we may disapprove of. I have watched monks chant violent passages in the Psalm without becoming violent, knowing that this is a way of engaging and owning the shadow.

Richard Rohr: In our men’s work we developed what we thought were very powerful rituals for men. But I came to understand that there is an essential difference between ceremony and ritual. Ceremony doesn’t allow any revelation of the shadow side. It’s all “Aren’t we wonderful”, and everybody has to buy into it.

What makes true ritual so transformative is that it always reveals the shadow. The Eucharistic rituals always begin with a penitential rite, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

In the Catholic rite before we come to Communion, we say “Lord I am not worthy” – why is it that only you worthy ones are allowed to come forward to receive communion? We try to name the universal unworthiness and then we deny it. “We didn’t really mean that ‘Lord I am unworthy’. In fact I am worthy because I’m in my first marriage, or I’m heterosexual.”

As long as we have ceremony instead of ritual, we will continue to attract a low level of commitment. They come to know that words don’t mean anything. We say, “Lord have mercy”, but I’m not really in need of mercy; I’m here because I’ve checked all the categories of worthiness. We can’t keep having it both ways. As Pope Francis keeps saying, we must see the church and the Eucharistic meal as medicine for the journey not as reward for the perfect.

But that’s what the ego does; it takes the beautiful rituals and makes them a way to have our own Fourth of July parade.

We need to get a lot more honest about the power of true ritual for transformation. The only remaining ritual from ancient initiation rites that has persisted through Christian history is Ash Wednesday.

William Paul Young: Coming from a non-liturgical background, for us the early church was 7:30 service. But as our walls have come down more and more and we are engaging with people of other traditions, we in the evangelical church are finding value in things that you are losing interest in. A lot of times we want to land on a set of rituals that gives us a sense of power and control and certainty. But this is not about the Temple. This is about participation.

If you don’t know already that you are significant you are going to try to find significance in something outside of yourself to tell you that you are, rather than, “I know I am significant, therefore I can do anything.” My relationship transcends the liturgy. That’s where a lot of folks got lost.

And it’s not like the low church Protestants haven’t created their own sense of liturgy, or the charismatics, or the Pentecostals. They have their own liturgy; it may be a little more free form, but as soon as the chord goes to a certain place, they know what you’re supposed to do.

We are all in the same bind. We don’t like the mystery of the relationship; we want the security of conformity, because then we know who we are and who they are.

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