Sunday, December 22, 2013

Worship on the Longest Night

Last night I went to a worship service that was new to me:  the service of the longest night.  Unbeknownst to me, this service has been growing in popularity as an opportunity for people who find the Christmas season overwhelming because they're struggling with sadness and grief.

I thought about not going because this year is not one where I consciously feel like I'm struggling with sadness or grief.  Other seasons have been more filled with sadness--or worse, anger.  I remember the Christmas season of 2004, when my mother-in-law fell and broke her hip, which started a whole sequence of events that led to her death in 2005.  The Christmas season of 2005 was filled with sadness and loss--we started the year with her struggles and ended with the worst hurricane season I've ever experienced.


But this year is not that year.  This year is not 2 years ago, when my grandmother hovered at death's door.  I thought perhaps I shouldn't go, that I'd be an impostor.

However, I was interested, and so was my spouse.  We went, even though we weren't sure what to expect.

The mood was sober and contemplative, a quietness, with an upright bass and a soft organ as the only instruments.  We had readings, some from Psalms, some from the Gospels, with promises of God's presence.  We had prayer stations:  we could light candles in memory of our loved ones who had died, we could write our gratitude on paper Christmas ornaments, we could ask to be anointed with oil and prayed over, we could write our struggles in sand and wipe them out, and we could dip our fingers in the baptismal font and remember the baptismal promise.

We finished with Communion and the soft singing of "Silent Night."  We left in silence.

Can I be blunt?  I loved this service, even though this year has not been one of struggles as past years have been.  Still, there have been struggles.  Something in me needed that message.

I loved the quietness.  I struggle with amplification in many services.  I want acoustic instruments.  I want quiet.  I liked that there wasn't a sermon.

I've spent my life yearning for sermons with intellectual heft, and I rarely find them in church.  What first attracted me to the church where I'm a member now is that the sermons had some depth.  But lately, I just want to hear the Bible read out loud.  I want the words to sink into my bones so that they can bubble out again.

In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I needed to sit in quiet and listen.  I suspect that in other liturgical seasons, I could be happy just sitting and listening.  I'd like contemplative acoustic music, chunks of the Bible read out loud, and the Eucharist--I'd also be willing to confess my sins, because I know the importance of them. 

Here's my ideal service, right now.  I'd enter with a piece of paper in hand, and I'd spend quiet time thinking about my sins and writing them on paper.  Maybe there would need to be some prompts for people who aren't used to thinking about their sins.  We could bury or burn those papers.

Then we'd listen to the Bible and have musical interludes.  We would end with the Eucharist.

That's it:  no creeds, no corporate prayers.  No choir anthems.  No chancel dramas or dances.  Not much liturgy to speak of.

What does it say about me that I'm yearning for a stripped down service?  I've spent a lot of my life writing liturgies, writing prayers, writing chancel dramas and presentations, writing meditations and sermons.  Am I moving to a new season of my life? 

Or is it just the yearning of an overstimulated mind?  I suspect that the answer lies in that direction.  I spend a lot of time with lots of information coming at me, often at high speed and high volume.  The idea of something much simpler holds enormous appeal to me.

I suspect I'm not the only one.

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