June 27, 2010

Effortful Episcopalians

This procession is moving along. You are most welcome to come along with it, but don’t take it personally if we do not wait for you to get it—at least on the first try.

However difficult it may be for the neophytes to feel it, fumbling with a verbose bulletin and two—count them, two—books for worship, there is moving across the surface of this hour a determined cadence.

Celebrant—people, celebrant—people, celebrant—people.

At times we feel like some sort of high-church sculling crew: our boat made of blocks, our captains in albs. Each prayer, every response has the feel of one more pull across the shimmering waters.  A race from pulpit to font to table.  (Granted, the course reveals its technical traps: “What in the world was Rite II?” asks my fellow teammate, after the trip.  He, too, is a rookie.)  Even so, there was movement in our churchy minutia, from here to there and back again.

In this era when the rest of us Protestants are falling all over ourselves to “connect” with the burned-over crowds and on Sundays “meet people where they are,” some part of me appreciates how this boat-for-worship can—will!—move along quite without me in it.  People matter, of course, but at least this liturgy calls forth more of a “we” than “me.”  I am in this boat, but it is not mine.

For one thing, there are a great many actions for a great many people. The chancel is at times a rush-hour of activity.  Choirs, ushers, acolytes, priests, pilgrims, all scurrying about—an Episcopalian pileup.  We stand, we sit, we kneel.  I sing, I speak, I look … I taste. Someone once dubbed this frenzy “the work of the people.” And because most of the movement of worship is not confined to the frontal cortex, but is embodied, in full view, perhaps for this reason it is difficult to escape the notion that none of this is about me.  I am here, but this time is not mine.

So although the four-year-old two pews forward of me spent the entire Eucharist making fart-like noises with her cheeks and having a merry time of it, and even if the couple just in front of me spent the Sanctus chuckling at her mini-theater, prayer-book in hand … God was still praised.  All around our gassy gal arose the larger doxological chorus.  We sang and ate and sang some more, quite without her permission.  Her cheeky little show, subsumed in a sea of hymnody.  She made her presence known, but the boat would not be thrown off course.

“Holy, holy, holy,” high and lifted up, O Jesus.

Above cheeks and chuckles and even private connections, as in “If you don’t connect with me, preacher, I’m outta here.”

Alas, can’t you see the passing waters?
Pick up an oar and get out of your head.
Don’t you hear the captain?

Row, O self-anchored ones.  Row with me across these baptismal waters. And sing as you sail.  Sing to the Lord of this lake. Keep moving with me! One more prayer-pull.  Feel the grace of possibly being left behind.

God is here. And we are Thine.