When the word “worship” becomes synonymous with the word “singing” on Sunday morning, something is lost. On the opposite end of conceiving of worship as specific actions like singing, praying, or listening to a sermon, is the big picture of “a life of worship.” When we think about dedicating our entire lives to God, giving Him “our moments and our days in ceaseless praise” as the old hymn puts it, we are freer to think about how our story intersects with God’s big story of salvation for the world. We can even begin to see our actions as something that contributes to a divine romance so to speak; even a human/divine dance of activity, intimacy, and rest. I recently preached on Psalm 90, a prayer attributed to Moses about how he found wisdom in “numbering his days.” As I write this and in thinking of its connection to this metaphor of a human/divine dance, it seems a fitting reflection that at some point the “music” will stop and this dance will be over. Then the eternal dance with God will begin as we regroup in the resurrection. For now, it seems, we should just enjoy the dance we are called to at present.
The ancients had a way of thinking about the connection between our story and God’s big story, a way of “numbering their days” if you will, or marking out time in the search for a wisdom filled life. They thought of every year as a journey from the foreshadowing of Jesus’ incarnation and birth (Advent and Christmas) and moving toward Jesus’ death and resurrection (Lent and Easter). While we Quakers struggle with what we perceive as “high church forms,” I think we can gain a lot from slowing ourselves down and putting our “moments and our days” back into God’s big story in our sanctified imaginations. While holidays like Epiphany or Ash Wednesday might seem to be huge distractions or “forms” to us with our simple, Quaker perspective on worship, the church year does not have to be something we eye with suspicion. I think we can see it is complementary to our idea that our whole lives can be sacraments. It fits as a way of experiencing our faith in a new dimension, because we are reflecting on our journey with God as a larger rhythm than we are often conscious of. If all of life is a sacrament, then our time is also a sacrament, and there is nothing wrong with marking it out in ways that remind us of God’s big story of redemption. This sets the story in its proper place, as an active drama being lived out even now.
In my worship planning at College Avenue Friends, I have tried to make room for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter for this very reason. I want to challenge you as we begin another journey through Advent to pay attention to God’s story and its meaning for you. To do yourself a favor and not cut to the end of the story simply because we already know how it ends, but to try to let the “moments” of this Advent season remind you of the slow journey toward Bethlehem, and the One we are to meet there.
God calls us to a rhythmic life of worship. A life of order and discipline that lets the Spirit prune and sanctify us, even sanctify our imaginations and meddling with the desires of our hearts. In the Old Testament, God commanded a series of feasts, fasts, and festivals. There is something about us that requires this sort of divine nudge toward setting apart time to focus on God as a community. While the liturgical year can seem overly complex to us Quakers, it serves this very purpose of marking out space, of carving out some time in our busy lives for God to enter in to. This starts with creating a worship space in our own hearts—a space with room enough for God’s big story at work in our lives. This measured approach to life is one of holding ourselves back so that we can once again watch and wait for the Spirit’s movement. May the simplicity that undergirds our Quaker perspective on worship allow us to keep focused on the big story this advent season, the story of love brought into being in the person of Jesus Christ. May we keep Christ at the center—not only of our being—but also at the center of our own stories of living the resurrection life.