A big turquoise envelope was floating around the kitchen. I thought it was full of newspaper clips about cow fertility for my niece, but it turns out that it’s five-step liturgies for worship that I wrote for the Blackfeet Methodist congregations in 1988-89. I wonder whether I could or should find the concordance for the year, the scriptures assigned to each Sunday. The weather had its own ideas about the calendar and since my theology is “immanental,” the seasons had as much to do with what I wrote as the Bible verses.
Here’s a sample from January 8.
CALL TO WORSHIP (Responsive)
We come again in this New Year to renew our faithful attendance at this house of worship.
The calendar has turned now and we look down the length of the months for a whole year to the next Christmas.
It is cold and we draw together as families and as friends in order to keep our hearts warm.
And we warm ourselves before this great flame of glory that we give the name of God Almighty.
May those who are frightened come to be with us here where we may comfort them. May those who are joyful come to be with us here that we may rejoice with them. May those who love life come to be with us here, for this is a place where we love life and all its beauty.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
A great wind came last week to rip at our roofs, tear at our windows, knock us off our feet when we tried to walk. Now it is stone cold and we must watch our fires to make sure they don’t go out, watch our children to make sure they dress warmly. We feel fragile in such a world. On the news we hear of terrorists and nerve gas and we hear the wails of the bereaved mothers. We are very small, oh Lord, and we must trust others to guide our country through the perils. Keep us from the loss of hope when the chance of peace is great, but the powers of hatred are still potent. Let us never lose hope or confidence that good will overcome evil. We falter.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Our God has made us various and resourceful, able to draw on each other’s strengths. We are not alone in the world, for we have families, fellow country people, wise people, strong people, people who will be with us even as we are with our God. For if we are unable to reach out for God, behold, the wind of His Spirit reaches us and lifts us up.
The change in our lives sometimes feels like loss, but other times it is a gift and we are glad to be different. Some of the trees who live alongside us survive by dropping their leaves and growing new ones, and others survive by conserving and renewing the old needles. In the coming week may we both conserve and renew, sending our roots deep into the soil of our world. For through us blows not just the cold winter winds, but also the wind of the spirit which lifts us up everlastingly.
These liturgies were written for the Sundays from September 25 to May 28. I’m thinking about just posting them on a separate blog even though I wouldn’t be able to get the dates to match. They’d make a pretty nice meditation manual for people around here because the whole thing is based on the material culture of the people who live on the Blackfeet Reservation.
One would have to add the prairie fire for this Sunday. The photos are remarkable. (See www.gftribune.com) Black velvet spread over the land in stripes, stopping just short of the houses. The sentiments are meant to be Christian -- the Methodist symbol is the fire with the cross against it, so fire is an easy “gimme.” If you want to see Divine Intervention or the Devil’s handiwork in the fire, be my guest.
One of the little knots for a minister to work out personally is how much to accommodate the beliefs of the congregation and the doctrine of the denomination. If it’s insincere and rote, people can feel it. But I don’t think the minister going off into private ecstasy is very helpful either -- that’s performing and leaves no way for the people to participate. Where’s the communication?
But there’s nothing wrong with following a liturgical year. We’re roughly a little past epiphany, which Christians more or less consider to be when the three Magi or Wise Men or whoever they were, finally got there. (A recent piece I read contended that the three Magi were considered jokers, goof-offs, for thinking that any baby could be God. But then they arrived and saw that the God had become the baby. A little tender pearly damp specimen of incarnated flesh.)
By now this stuff is old, so you have to work a little to knock some surprise into it. Each time period has its own style. The Christian Year is a series of poems for every day of the year by John Keble in 1827. Victorian scholar Michael Wheeler calls The Christian Year simply "the most popular volume of verse in the nineteenth century". It was considered "Tractarian Aesthetics” in the Romantic Tradition.” My seasons of Sundays would be “pastoral” in aesthetics but still in the Romantic tradition (see note at the bottom, cadged from Wikipedia), which is laden with nature imagery. But informal. Rather more like the guided imagery of a modern meditation group than hymn language. Keble is writing a love letter.
SUN of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,
It is not night if Thou be near;
Oh may no earth-born cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes!
When the soft dews of kindly sleep
My weary eyelids gently steep,
Be my last thought how sweet to rest
Forever on my Saviour’s breast!
Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without Thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without Thee I dare not die.
The nature imagery here is melded with personal romantic and physical (!) love. It is sensual and bedroom-obsessed in the way that girls in our culture somehow confuse physical passion with being nursed by their mothers. It’s chick-flick religion, pulling God off into a little one-on-one in seclusion, wearing a maid’s uniform, no less. Think about it.
“Romanticism (or the Romantic era/Period) was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe and strengthened in reaction to the Industrial Revolution In part, it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature. The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities.”