On Liturgy: Liturgy and Life
Rev. Alexandra Jacob serves as associate pastor for families, youth, and children in downtown Minneapolis, where she enjoys learning and worshiping alongside a vibrant group of young people and their families.
One recent Saturday afternoon, I opened the Notes app on my phone to make a grocery list. I opened my “Grocery List” note and read the following:
Those who lack access to water, food, and shelter
Clearly, a prayer request list had made its way into my grocery list. I recalled the previous night’s junior high church lock-in, which included some time for evening prayer in between rounds of hide and seek. That evening as we sat cross-legged in a circle in our church recreation room, I wondered what kinds of prayer requests I might hear within the circle. Prayer time with our junior high students often includes a wide range of content—from silly to serious, and everything in between. To my surprise, the prayer requests the students shared this particular evening were on the more serious side. Their minds and hearts were heavy with the news of the world—the effects of climate change on vulnerable global populations; a recent horrific headline of migrants being shuttled to northeastern states without their full consent; police raids of homeless encampments in our own city; and many, many more. I had anticipated a quick prayer time that evening, with youth eager to return to one of their favorite raucous lock-in games around the church. I was unprepared for just how quickly they were able and willing to engage that energy in the work of prayer. I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I am reminded of the peaceable kingdom image from Isaiah 11: “and a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6b).
Moments like the one I describe of the grocery-list-turned-prayer-list are few and far between. As much as I wish I could say that I remember my baptism every time I drink a glass of water or wash my face, or that I give thanks for the Eucharist every time I enjoy freshly baked bread at my favorite restaurant, the truth is that I rarely do. Often, those small intersections between the mundane and the holy simply go unnoticed.
In the final section of the PC(USA) Directory for Worship, we read the following: “The church’s mission springs from its worship, where we glimpse the reality and the promise of God’s eternal realm. The church’s mission flows back into worship as we bring to God the joy and suffering of the world.”1 Indeed, when worship is at its richest, it speaks to the real joy and suffering of the world. And when our lives are at their richest, our daily living brings forth glimpses of God’s realm. I think of this as the “permeability” of worship—the movement of worship out into our lives, and back again. The youth at the Friday night church lock-in were living out an element of this permeability, whether they knew it or not. They had carried the joy and the pain of the world around them into that brief time of worship, eager to translate it into the familiar language of prayer. I hope, too, that the permeability worked both ways: that the youth went home the next morning wondering what their small part might be in healing the world’s pain and relishing in the world’s joy.
As I struggle to perceive the flow from world to worship and worship to world, I have found some valuable conversation partners, often in the form of written resources. You will find below a list of such resources. Of course, no one book or podcast can lead us fully into the flow of lived liturgy, or of offering ourselves fully to God in worship. I have found, though, that devoting a bit of attention to this holy flow, this liturgical permeability, can invite us into that holy rhythm in ways that contribute to true transformation.
Book: Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life, by Meta Herrick Carlson2
Herrick Carlson’s blessings beautifully bridge the gap between life and liturgy. Among many others, she includes blessings for everyday moments like paying bills, difficult experiences like losing a loved one, and “B-list” holidays like winter solstice and Tax Day. A favorite of mine is her blessing “For Looking in the Mirror.” Herrick Carlson also just published a lovely collection of everyday blessings for parents and caregivers, Ordinary Blessings for Parents.3
Instagram Account: @blackliturgies4
Black author and liturgist Cole Arthur Riley’s Instagram account and web content include the author’s own writing about the intersections between life and liturgy. Her work often includes rich quotations from Black authors like Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and James Baldwin. A favorite liturgy of mine is her “Liturgy for the New Year,” posted at @blackliturgies on December 31, 2021.5
Podcast: Pray As You Go6
The Pray As You Go podcast is a brief (under ten minutes) daily podcast that invites the listener into lectio divina prayer based on daily lectionary readings for the day. The podcast includes meditative music from a variety of sources, and includes thoughtful prayer and meditation prompts to encourage a life of prayer.
Book: Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the End of the World, by Cláudio Carvalhaes7
A product of a Council for World Mission project in 2018–2019, this book of liturgies is grounded in Carvalhaes’s work with communities experiencing poverty and violence. The prayers, liturgies, ritual acts, and songs were written collaboratively, and the pieces bring voice to the unique lived realities of communities and individuals across the world.
- Directory for Worship, Book of Order (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2019), W-5.0301.
- Meta Herrick Carlson, Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020).
- Meta Herrick Carlson, Ordinary Blessings for Parents: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Family Life, The Ordinary Blessings Series, 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022).
- Cole Arthur Riley, “Cole Arthur Riley,” accessed October 1, 2022, colearthurriley.com.
- Cole Arthur Riley [@blackliturgies], “Liturgy for the New Year,” Instagram, December 31, 2021, accessed October 1, 2022, https://www.instagram.com/blackliturgies/.
- Pray As You Go, accessed October 1, 2022, prayasyougo.org.
- Cláudio Carvalhaes, Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the End of the World (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020).