a little something extra

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sabbath 12

With this chapter, we reach the end of the section called "Rhythm." The chapter title is The Book of Hours.

In this chapter, Muller advocates for the internal and external benefits of private prayer guided by the established practices of a faith community, and of participation in communal liturgy and the paraliturgical events that mark religious festivals.

The internal benefits he describes are the antidote to the stresses of continual striving towards progress (remember his riding forth to joust against commitment to progress, a couple of chapters ago?) Muller writes regarding following the prayer prompts of the Liturgy of the Hours, "When I stop to pray, I feel my body release, disengage slightly from the rush of activity and progress, and float on the tides of a deeper time..." Wouldn't many people's cardiologists, psychologists and endocrinologists just love to be able to report such benefits from their treatment or their patients' lifestyle adjustments?

Moving into discussion of the collective liturgy, Muller makes a cogent point about how the mistake of striving for progress can mount a sneak attack there. He remarks on how many religious professionals and devoted volunteers grow desperate, frustrated and vastly overworked when they try to make this year's Easter service or Christmas pageant more moving, more meaningful, more glorious than last year's or the one the year before that. There's a risk of piling too many lilies on the altar, having too many parts to the procession, too much involved in the pageant, and finding oneself and one's congregation way out on the other side of the point of diminishing returns.

Instead, Muller writes, "The perfection is in the repetition, the sheer ordinariness, the intimate familiarity of a place known because we have visited it again and again, in so many different moments."

And my antennae and hackles go up.

Muller, as his photo on the Bread for the Journey website reveals, is a white dude. Now, he's a white dude who has devoted a great deal of his time and energy to working with the most disadvantaged people he could reach, and I want to give him credit for that.

But I also want to point out that by advocating for liturgy as-is, Muller fails to recognize and root out the sexism, racism and homophobia that is embedded in liturgy as-is. It's possible that he misses this because the sexism, racism and homophobia have never been directed at him. When you're the target of such hate, you learn to recognize it and resent how mere repetition equals tacit endorsement. When you're not the target, you can be blissfully ignorant.

Muller's exercise for this week starts out simple, but rich, with the idea of the lectio divina, the practice of contemplative reading which originated (like most things with Latin names) in the Roman Catholic Church. While the phrases he gives as examples are all drawn from Judeo-Christian scriptures, it's clear that the function and effect are much like mantras in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Muller cautions against employing analytical faculties when choosing to do this kind of reading, saying instead that one should "allow it to quietly work on you, as leaven in the bread, as water on a stone. The key is to read slowly, chew over the words, and allow them to quietly nourish and heal you."

While I appreciate the benefits of meditation as much as the next gal, I am frankly quite suspicious of any recommendation that a person stop thinking, especially when that recommendation comes in a religious context. But if one is going to do so, I'm certainly less worried if they do it in the private setting of lectio divina than in any of the public settings of life.

This chapter is full of references to Henri Nouwen, so I expect that's going to make Tripp happy -- his post is here. Cristopher's post is here.


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