A Deeper Life of Worship: Why Liturgy Is Valuable

What is liturgy, and why is it valuable?

Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...

“Liturgy” means a structure of worship, and every church has one, whether the people involved call it that or not. Every service has a structure: a characteristic ordering of the songs, Scripture readings, sermon, prayers, collection, and so on. In typical usage, though, “liturgy” is usually associated with particular traditions such as the Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches, which have structures for worship that include set prayers and responses for the participants.

For those who’ve never attended a liturgical church, think of it this way. Every Christian knows the Lord’s Prayer, and it’s often included in a worship service for the congregation to say together. Now imagine that the whole service is structured around a framework of prayers and responses like this, taken from Scripture or written by great saints of the church. That’s liturgical worship.

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Voyeurism and Violence: A Reflection on The Hunger Games

It’s not often that I find a film to be better than the book, but The Hunger Games is such a one.  It’s an effective and engaging film in its own right, well worth seeing - and it confronts the viewer with important issues about our complex relationship with violence, voyeurism, and entertainment.

The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, is set in a dystopian future in which North America is divided into twelve Districts under the control of the Capitol. Each year, every District must send two Tributes, a randomly chosen boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games as a reminder of the Capitol’s power and a warning against rebellion. The story follows a girl named Katniss, who volunteers to be one of District 12’s Tributes in place of her younger sister.

The Vision of Literary Apologetics

Why is apologetics, the defense of the Christian faith, important?

In one sense, Christianity needs no defense. God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, does not depend for His existence on our belief. However, many people who do not know the living God are separated from Him in part by intellectual obstacles. Removing those obstacles by showing that Christianity indeed makes sense on a rational level is an act of love and care for our neighbor. Defending the faith also builds up a strong foundation for believers. A securely built house has a solid, well-built foundation, so that the vagaries of wind and weather don’t damage it or cause distress to the inhabitants. It’s natural to have questions and doubts - think of the disciples, asking Jesus “increase our faith!” or the man who cries out “Lord, I believe: help my unbelief!” Apologetics helps strengthen the foundations by providing answers to questions and doubts, so that the Christian can grow stronger in his or her faith.

Reclaiming Story for Christ?

As I have written before, in our modern Western culture we suffer from a disconnect between Reason and Imagination. Story, when it is rightly used in the service of Truth, can help to connect these two necessary elements into a healthy, God-focused whole.

However, reclaiming Story for the cause of Truth means more than just slapping a Christian label on the idea of storytelling. We must be clear about what Story is and how it relates to Truth.

Portions of the Christian church have wholeheartedly affirmed a postmodern understanding of Story. In this view, Christians have a wonderful story, one that brings meaning and joy and purpose to those who accept it, but it is a story that makes no claims about objective reality and objective Truth.

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On Doing Good Work

What does it mean to be a working writer and teacher?

Work is a good thing – one of the best things in my life, I have found: to do good work, work that uses my mind and imagination and strength to the fullest. Writing is a great joy in this regard: seeing ideas take shape before me, discovering more fully what I really mean even as I write.

Work is a good thing, instituted by God before the Fall: Adam tended the garden (and thus did good work in the cultivation of beauty – something to aspire to). It was not work itself that fell to Adam and Eve as a curse upon their sin and expulsion from Eden, but toil – that aspect of work that is unfruitful, depressing, grinding, depleting.

In our fallen world, even good work has its elements of toil.

Why Story Matters

Why do stories matter?

Ultimately, because of who we are - made in the image of God. Human beings possess the twin faculties of Reason and Imagination, both God-given, both essential for a right relationship with the world (and for a right understanding of one’s place in the world).

However, something has gone badly wrong in our culture. In a slow process that began with the Enlightenment and has continued to the present day, these faculties of Reason and Imagination have been separated, to the detriment of both.

On the one hand, Reason has been given free rein, and the pursuit of knowledge using our God-given intellect has become scientism and materialism, the idea that only those things that can be empirically measured and logically figured out can be considered “true” or “real.” In the world of science, truth is held to be only that which is measurable and testable. Intangible things like emotions and spiritual truths are decidedly second-class citizens. After all, souls can’t be detected with an MRI, and love can’t be weighed and measured!

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Pushing Back Against the World

Christians are called to be in the world, but not of it. I think that we often acknowledge this as true (perhaps even by putting a NotW sticker on our cars) but fail to recognize how hard it is to follow Jesus as Lord without caving in to the world’s way of thinking and doing… and thus slowly caving in to the world’s way of being.

The obvious examples are ones like sexual behavior, or greed, and so I’m not going to discuss those. Instead, I want to look at a more subtle pressure from the world: on our prayer lives.

Because of my writing, speaking, and study, over the past five years I’ve had the opportunity to pray and worship in a variety of settings, in different Christian traditions and with different styles of prayer: liturgical and structured, or extemporaneous; charismatic, or very low-key; low church, high church; with a pastor, with a priest, or with fellow lay people; in a beautiful church building, gathered in a community center, in a living room, or sitting on lawn chairs outdoors.

I’ve learned a great deal about prayer from all of this.

I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone.

I’ve helped push other people out of their comfort zones.

And here’s something of what I’ve learned.

People who have a living, vibrant relationship with the Triune God are people who have living, vibrant prayer lives. People who truly know Jesus and are committed to following him on the way of the Cross pray in a different way than those who are just tagging along with Jesus without a radical commitment to following him.

Style of prayer is absolutely irrelevant to the level of seriousness. Depending on a person’s personality and circumstances, the best way to interact with God in prayer might be through praying the Daily Office using the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, or having a daily quiet time; it might be through blasting praise songs or walking in silence. What matters is taking Jesus seriously; taking the work of prayer seriously; immersing oneself in Holy Scripture and taking God’s Word seriously; this is what cuts across the lines of church tradition and personal preferences.

I repeated “taking it seriously” for a reason. Because another thing I’ve learned from seeing all these different prayer styles and worship traditions is this: no matter what style of prayer you use, the world will still press in and try to distract you from the work of prayer.

Here’s what the world says – at least a few of the whispers I’ve heard, and had to deal with:

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Christ's Love and the Blessing of Holy Saturday

Saturday in Holy Week – in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it seems like just a placeholder. Why then does the Church call it Holy?

On the Friday we call Good, our Lord laid down his life for us; went to the Cross in love, and there took on all the weight of the world’s sin, and death too, all for us. He died. His heart was pierced by the centurion’s spear, and blood and water poured out. His lifeless body was taken down, covered in blood and sweat, cradled in his mother’s arms, and then, hastily, wrapped up and placed in the tomb.

And there in the tomb he lay.

Jesus had done his work on the Cross – redeeming the world that God had made and called good, but that we had broken; calling all humanity to him, his arms outstretched on the Cross to draw all to himself. In six days, God made all of creation; on the seventh day He rested. And the Son, having done his work on the Cross, rested too.

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Shadow and Light: Thoughts on Route to Easter

Five long weeks of Lent, and yet one more, as we move through Holy Week toward the events of Easter. Why observe Lent? And why so long, when it seems so very long, these five weeks and more of a bare, unadorned church, of the disciplines of self-denial and self-examination?

Lent is indeed too long – too long for me to go on my own strength and resources. It is long enough for me to feel the initial enthusiasm of self-discipline, and past it, the weakness of failure. Lent is long enough for me to see my own weakness. Long enough to say, What’s the point? Why keep struggling on?

Lent cuts through our too-quick assurances of peace and joy; forces us to recognize that the pain of the world, and our own pain, cannot be salved by a cheery Bible verse or a hearty exhortation to rejoice.

The Spiritual Discipline of Liturgical Prayer

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul gives us a bracing challenge: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Pray without ceasing! How is that even possible? 

There are many ways to approach the idea of constant prayer, but one way that Anglicans all over the world have used fruitfully is to pray what is known as the "Daily Office" for Morning and/or Evening Prayer.

The Daily Office is a liturgical style of prayer, meaning that there is a set structure for the prayer service.The Daily Office is structured around Scripture readings, in a framework of traditional written prayers (most of which draw specifically on Bible verses for their language), with “space” built in for extemporaneous, personal prayer. The Anglican / Episcopalian liturgy for Morning Prayer or for Evening Prayer has a number of different options, so by making choices about what to include and what to skip, each individual can personalize the Daily Office to fit different preferences and amounts of time, from 15 minutes to... however long you want to pray!

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Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.