Monday, 18 July 2011

Praise, Worship and the Unknown

I like liturgy.  I'm a very long way from being anything approximating an expert, but I like to leaf through missals and suchlike to see how things fit together.  I have spent hours and hours squinting at the liturgical calendar, to the point where I almost know how it works.

In part it's the same sort of geeky satisfaction I get from anything which piques my curiosity.  On this level it's no more pious than collecting train numbers.  It's a distraction, but a pleasant and (I hope) harmless one.  Particularly, I try not to get embroiled in the sort of bad-tempered arguments which foment over liturgy in some corners of the internet.

The other reason is that church makes me nervous.  Well, that's not quite true.  Let me explain.  Three years ago I'd never belonged to a church community.  I arrived at the door, breathless and enthusiastic, and didn't really know how people behaved in such contexts.  I forced myself to go to coffee after Mass so I'd get to meet people, and I went along to some of the other events like choir and Bible studies with the same intention.  Drinking coffee and making small talk with someone is the same wherever you do it, and I may not be a master of such things but I can at least feign competency.  The unspoken rules I thought might exist in these new social situations were, for the most part, imaginary.

Mass is, of course, always more or less the same.  It has been familiar to me from about the age of five, and once I started going to church it quickly all came back.  The Mass isn't about personalities, and it is, in my opinion, at its most beautiful when the celebrant and the other participants just perform their role simply and without ostentation.

Yesterday evening I finally got around to attending a Bible study at my parish in Halifax.  I've meant to turn up for ages, but it's only recently that I've had the get up and go and the opportunity to actually get there.  The lady who runs it did say before hand that it was prefaced with a little praise and worship, so I sort of knew what I was letting myself in for.  I've had a lot of invitations to be involved in more Charismatic activities, but I've usually been otherwise engaged. 

We did start off with some singing, lead by someone on the guitar.  I think it was "Maranatha" and a couple of other things in that vein.  It was pleasant.  When we got to the reading it was, unsurprisingly, the day's gospel reading, the parable of the wheat and the darnel from Matthew 13.  We reread and sat in silence for a short while before sharing our thoughts.

Unlike the Bible study at my home parish in York, it wasn't a question-led discussion, but rather a forum in which to reflect upon scripture and share one's personal insights.  In these settings I rarely feel moved to speak.  There isn't a safe script.  But there is something about them which I feel is an antidote to my usual stick-to-what-it-says-in-the-book, look-it-up-in-a-commentary-later attitude.

I left the meeting feeling I'd been forced to think about the reading in a new way, and being forced outside one's comfort zone is sometimes a good way to learn.

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