A Liturgical Audit
The first words Jesus speaks in John come in the form a question. This question is addressed to his would be disciple Nathanial. Jesus asks, “What do you want?” Fast forward to the end of John’s Gospel and the last words are another question, this time to another disciple, Peter. Jesus asks, “What do you love?” Notice the question isn’t what do you believe or what do you think, but what do you love. This is because humans are desiring creatures. We are lovers. What drives us is what we love. Therefore, our lives are pointed in some direction. We are moving toward some true north, some vision of the good life. We orientate ourselves with this vision by what we do, our habits, rituals, or our liturgies. I am using this term — liturgy — because it relates to worship, and what we love and what we worship are often synonymous. These liturgies act as arrows shooting us toward what we want or love. The challenge for discipleship or following Jesus is that there are these counter liturgies that shoot us towards alternative visions of the good life. They capture us. They re-narrate us. They de-form us. They co-opt us. Through these liturgies we end up loving or wanting something other than what we thought or believe. So the question is how do I know what I am loving, wanting, worshipping? I say I love Jesus, but in reality I am like the rich young ruler, who thinks he loves God, but really loves his wealth, and this wealth in the end keeps him from following Jesus. These rival liturgies keep us from Jesus and His kingdom.
So how do we get at these rival liturgies? How do we know if we are practicing them or if we are being co-opted by them? Well, I suggest one practice to begin is something called a “liturgical audit.”
A liturgical audit is asking the following questions:
What are the habits and practices that I’m participating in without really thinking about?
What are those practices doing to me?
Are there other practices that might habituate me into a different way of being in the world?
Ok, lets look at each of these…
What are the habits and practices that I’m participating in without really thinking about? Often these habits seem benign to us, but in fact they are doing something to us. This happens below the head level more at the gut level. Those things that I just do, and then go why did I do that? Like the older fish swimming by two young fish and the older fish says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish look at each other and one says to the other, “What the heck is water?” It is hard to see these things most times, because we don’t realize we are in water. What are the things that you do that you take for granted, and you haven’t really asked yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
We all work. Imagine your work life and do an audit of your office, work space, factory? Ask yourself, what are the rituals and rhythms that I am pulled through just by showing up to work everyday? And what’s the story that is carried in these rhythms? We are trying to unearth any covert or unconscious story of human flourishing that I’m absorbing in these practices that I didn’t even realize or think about being loaded into them. Now, not everything is a liturgy. Not everything is doing something to us. However, much of what we do is.
The second question to ask when taking a liturgical audit is — What are those practices doing to me?
Imagine commuting for 1 hour a day or even sitting in your work space alone for the day listening to talk radio verses commuting with a group talking or working in an open space with other co-workers. What is being done to you in that hour or more of talk radio? What is being done to you in the car with your co-workers? In both, something is being done to you. You are absorbing a story in this. You may be absorbing a story of autonomy, personal choice, and then whatever the talk radio vision of the good life you are hearing. How might this be even more transformed if you rode a bus with phone in the bag and headphones in their case? Now I am not saying that its wrong to work by yourself or ride by yourself, but you also shouldn’t think this is just a neutral activity that isn’t doing something to you. If I run through my neighborhood, and I run with headphones listening to sports radio verses running in silence through my hood. What is being done to me? Ask of your practices, habits, routines, rhythms, what is being done to me in this practice?
And the third question is are there other practices that might habituate me into a different way of being in the world?
So in the example of running above, one practice might be silence. We lack space for silence. So, when I run, I pipe in music or podcasts. When I sit down after running at the local restaurant, there are tv’s and more music. When I’m home there is social media intruding on my life, and more distraction and noise with my tv. My kids experience this in some ways, this constant noise that I didn’t as a kid. And this can be an enemy of contemplation and introspection. The chatter of social media makes it hard to ever arriving at a place where we can confess, because we are constantly entertained and submerged in words and videos and snaps that we don’t know, can’t know ourselves well enough or know God well enough to confess. And this is reinforced in our workplaces and schools. Like my kids need snapchat for certain classes and on certain teams. Teachers are having the students use their phones in their class, so the option of not having a phone or having a certain type of phone aren’t even available to them anymore. Now I’m not saying get rid of all of that, but what I am saying is silence is a practice that might rehabituate you in some ways that are needed if you are going to be moved toward Christ and His kingdom, and not conscripted toward another kingdom.
So what are some practices of silence that can help us to just be in our world? Kind of like Louis CK says to his kids, “just look out the window and be a human being.” Think through some spiritual disciplines or practices that put you in the water of silence and contemplation. And just as a side note — there may be certain situations in your life that make this difficult—you have young children, your work schedule and demands, your social class, or other family concerns. It could be taking off the headphones on your run or it could be a hike on a Saturday with no phone or it might be an early morning time for prayer.
Now let me tease this out a little bit in the other direction. How might a practice of listening rehabituate you? We do need to be good listeners. And I think the listening done in the care with your co-workers is a different kind of listening in most cases than the listening done by yourself with talk radio as your muse. That is a car full of co-workers may help me live out a vision of Christ and His kingdom more than listening to talk radio by myself in that same car. Again these things aren’t neutral. They grab hold of us as desiring creatures. What might the practice of listening do to me and how might I rehabituate myself by listening to live persons in a confined space for 30 minutes or an hour? The last presbytery meeting, a group of us drove to Alamogordo in Charlie’s car. During this drive we talked and shared stories, and practiced active listening. We also listened to MLK’s Letter to a Birmingham Jail, and then discussed it after listening together. It was a rich time of community and conversation, how would this have been different if we all traveled alone in the car, or all got on our phones, well all except me the driver that is, well maybe that is. But how would this have been different. How were we rehabituated toward the good life of Jesus?
This practice of a liturgical audit isn’t easy. It requires us to ask tough questions. For example, maybe that car ride is not talk radio and podcasts but silence and prayer, how does this practice shape us? Again the point of this is to evaluate and process and think about the water in which we are swimming. What that water is doing to me? And are their other lakes or streams I should be swimming in, and how might I swim there? Practicing a liturgical audit comes down to intentionality and presence. We will be formed, shaped and aimed towards something, so how can we intentionally be formed and shaped toward Jesus and His Kingdom, in order that we don’t walk away from Jesus conscripted to our wealth or possessions and say this is the real good life and I don’t want to leave it.
Let me add one last thing here. When doing the audit, it is important to do in community. Do it with your spouse, your roommate, your city group, your friends. Ask what are the liturgies that are shaping me and how can I develop the depth perception to see them? There is power in even naming these things. Power in hearing them named with others in our lives.
Ultimately, discipleship, becoming Christ-like, empowered by the Spirit to image God to the world is not magic. Nor is it merely intellectual. It’s a matter of re-forming our loves, re-narrativing our identities, re-habituating our lives. Love takes practice, and worship is our gymnasium. . . .I’ll talk a little more about this gymnasium next week.
~ Rev. Justin Edgar
1. David Foster Wallace
2. Alan Jacobs and Comment magazine.
3. Louis CK interview with Conan O’Brein on the Conan show, TBS
4. All of this article is inspired and taken from James KA Smith on Taking a Liturgical Audit of Your Life