Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Silence may be kept

There is an over-circulated joke that says that Episcopalians are very fond of the Holy Bible because it contains so many nice quotes from the Prayer Book! That’s because the Book of Common Prayer is so central to our life and worship together. What and how we pray as Anglicans vitally shapes our identity and expresses what we believe. The Book of Common Prayer betrays our tangible commitment to beauty in worship. I find that incredibly important to my own life of worship. It may not be the thing for everyone, but it works best for me. I have a copy of the BCP by my bed, on my desk at work and in my truck. I realized one day that I am almost never more than twelve feet away from a Prayer Book for most of my life now.

Last year, when my formation for ordination process started to focus on liturgy, I had to start paying even more attention to the details. Those details are in smaller italic print. They are called rubrics because they were originally printed or written in red ( Latin: ruber) so they could be distinguished from the words of the liturgy that were spoken, which were printed in black. The rubrics are the written directions for the liturgy. I love them because they are thorough. There is no second-guessing about it, for example: “The following Confession of Sin may then be said; or the Office may continue with “Lord, open our lips.” “Then the Ministers and the People may greet one another in the name of the Lord.” “The People may add their own petitions.” “The Deacon or Celebrant says”… and my all time favorite: “Silence may be kept.” Nothing is left to chance or whim. Everyone is on the same page, decently and in order. In short, it is scripted. Deviating from the script is not a sin. In my tradition it is much, much worse. It is poor decorum.

That does not work for everyone. My oldest son has his mother’s worship genes. He has no interest in history whatsoever and could care less about tradition. I will say, “This is how our ancestors worshipped hundreds of years ago.” He will just look at me as if to say, “So what?” I then look at him as if to say, “Am I really your father?” My youngest son will respond to the same statement with a “Coool!” while he bows and makes the sign of the cross. I speak at all kinds of churches. Whenever I go to one that is of the more contemporary worship style, my oldest really enjoys it. There is one church where they play music with live guitars, drums and keyboards. They do not have hymnals. They project the words of the song upon the walls. I am not kidding. Seriously, they really have the words rotating up on the walls. They stand for long periods of time and sing with their hands lifted up in the air. My oldest son will be moved to the point that he has tears in his eyes. My youngest will have a look of utter terror in his. I spoke at one of those services once and the worship leader stopped right in the middle of the music and asked for anyone who wanted to pray at the front to please come forward. That seemed off the script for sure. My oldest went forward. My youngest looked at me in horror and whispered, “What do I do? What is happening?” I could tell that he longed for a Prayer Book to say, “Please turn to page 641 for additional directions.” Alas, there was no script to follow and he felt like running out of the building. I leaned over and whispered, “Just sit still and look holy.” Ahhh…now, he could do that. We both just sat there and reverted to our Anglican default settings: “Silence may be kept.”

I have many Christian friends who think that is mechanical and unspiritual. They fail to behold the beauty and creativity of the rhythm that the rubrics bring. It certainly would do nothing for them in the same manner that having the lines of a song projected upon the walls stands to do little for me. You see I had to sit through many slide shows when I was young. Every holiday my relatives showed the same slides to the family. Projections on the wall, while they bring back fond memories of my aunt Edith and uncle Charlie, do not exactly cause my heart or mind to soar to heaven.

I have often thought that I wish my life at the Rescue Mission came with rubrics. Unfortunately, most of life is lived unscripted. That is especially true of my type of work. It is as unpredictable as an old-fashioned tent revival meeting. One minute you are sitting in your chair at the back. The next minute you are on your back in the sawdust at the front watching people jump from chair to chair as they shout and wave a handkerchief. One minute I am sitting at my desk in my office. The next minute I am out front trying to stop traffic so that the nearly naked man who has been huffing paint does not get run over in the street---- “Wait a minute, he actually has a tattoo that says ‘Live to ride, Ride to live.’ How did he get a tattoo down there? Oh no, that car almost hit him! I wish the police would hurry up and get here.”

Actually, I can think of some pretty good rubrics to help order the chaos of crisis shelter ministry: “If the intoxicated man flips his middle finger, the Director responds by saying…” “If he moons you, an alternate form may be used.” “When desired, Directors may be appointed to slap the snot out of abusive husbands. In Lent, they may use a baseball bat.” “If a mentally challenged person gets a monthly check, it is appropriate to hide the income from predators in some convenient place.” “In place of calling 911, or in addition to it, the staff may use any of the additional means to keep disturbed individuals from jumping the fence.” “The Director or staff member faces the People and says…” “Here a ‘No Smoking in the Bathrooms’ anthem is sung or said.” “On weekends the following resources for mental health emergencies may be used.” “A hungry lady with children takes precedence over a lazy man requesting seconds at lunch.” “If a fundamentalist questions the validity of providing GED training to the homeless, hit him with a Bible while singing ‘Inglorious things of thee art spoken’ or, turn to page 732 for additional directions.” “It is always appropriate to yell at agencies that dump people like garbage at homeless shelters.” “If a guest urinates on the sidewalk use Lysol, then follows generous amounts of hot water.”

Sigh…of course, there is no such book of homeless shelter rubrics. There are so many invariables that the book would certainly resemble those massive, old Bibles that were kept chained to the tables in old Cathedrals. At the end of the day, the rubric that I usually find best to follow in just about every situation is my favorite, “Silence may be kept.” It’s always golden!