by Patrick Lafferty
"Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice."
Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, there is no new ETC this week. So we're reaching back into the archives to revisit an article posted on December 2, 2011.
Sunday we spoke of cynicism. In an age of half-truths and unrealistic promises, the effort to unmask insincerity and lower our expectations has become fashionable, if increasingly justifiable. Yet cynicism can have such a corrosive effect in those who treat it like a virtue, as it creeps, in an almost sinister fashion, into many of our daily decisions.
We also considered how Jesus confronts our drift toward cynicism. His authority as a king challenges our tendency to deny there is any authority. His integrity as one who exerted His rule—and died—for the sake of truth repudiates our cynical assumption that acting on pure motives is but a fantasy. And His offer of intimacy—of communion with Him—takes issue with our incredulity that His truth can ever penetrate or transform us.
So we asked how Jesus' confrontation with cynicism might reach from heaven to earth, how hope in what is not of this world might make its way into our world. And we suggested that though the Lord God Almighty often does profound work in the unexpected, unscripted—and often unsolicited—providences of life, there is something to be said for a more plodding approach to spirituality—a liturgy of life. By that we meant adopting a patterned existence in which we cultivate new habits of attention that frame our days and reinforce those ultimate truths that, among other things, displace cynicism with hope.
Time didn't permit a lengthy exploration about what a new liturgy of life might look like, or how it might be cultivated, though we mentioned two sources—drops in a sea of writing on the subject—that introduce both the rationale for such a liturgy and detail into the practice of it (James K. A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom, and Eric Metaxas' eponymous biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
So what of this new liturgy? What would it include? None of its elements would be unfamiliar to you, for you practice them each Sunday you gather for worship, but let's camp on at least two aspects: study and confession.
The liturgy would of course entail a study of God's truth, but one that only begins with asking questions of the text. In fact it would not be a true study until the questions were turned around upon you the student, until the text, as others have put it, begins to ask questions of you. Now, the time required to even formulate those questions and then reflect upon the answers to those text-sourced questions means you don't get as far in a book as fast. A slower, plodding pursuit of the text's meaning and significance honors the Spirit of God's interest in confronting us at our core. But the quantitative reduction in biblical ground you cover may mean qualitatively greater depth to the effect such study has. This is no indictment of those who wish to cover the Bible in a year (or less!), but as it allows for more patient reflection upon a given text it also militates against the satisfaction some of us take (mea culpa) in just having run our eyes upon the pages of the text. A liturgy of life might let His Word frame our days in how we make them our first and last consideration of each day, and how we ask God to investigate us. "Search me, O God, and know my heart" (Psalm 139:23).
Confession in a liturgy of life might become a more frequent occurrence, in turn enabling us to feel more deeply the depth of both sin and grace. Rather than wait for sin to reach such a boiling point that only confession can keep us from its scalding, rather than unwittingly think of sin as so banal that we can wait until Sunday to think of confession, a liturgy of life would make confession a daily occurrence and to someone whom you know understands sin's scathe and the balm of grace. As Bonhoeffer wrote elsewhere in his famous work, Life Together, "In confession we break through to true fellowship in the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross. In the deep mental and physical pain of humiliation before a brother—which means, before God—we experience the Cross of Jesus as our rescue and salvation." Confession acknowledges the existence of what ought not, while also expressing the desire for what must be. Confession before a brother or sister, a spouse or friend, forces us to make a searing recognition of our folly while at the same time affords us a proper word, fitly spoken about the truth of grace. How can we wait until Sunday for the grace to be found through confession? A liturgy of life takes hold of grace more readily through a life of repentance beginning with confession.
Study and confession are but two aspects of a liturgical life. Likely you see how even our prayers change in this liturgy as our meditations and confessions elicit far more than requests. Fortunately, there's nothing constricting about such a liturgy. Far from adopting a script, composing this liturgy is more like a jazz improvisation. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington—they knew the basics of chord progression and then simply filled the melodic space with innumerable musical possibilities. As long as you're mindful of the basics of communion with God—praise, prayer, confession, meditation (and don't forget lament)—there is no limit to how you might fill the liturgical space.
Every day is different, each with its own demands and difficulties. But we nonetheless adopt some patterns of which we might be mostly unaware. What patterns for living have you adopted, consciously or unconsciously? How might these patterns be reconfigured so that grace sinks into your recesses and rises to the surface of your being?