The New Liturgist (Part 2)


Like I mentioned last week, I thought I was going to have to go straight to the skeptics and the four-year-olds if I wanted to learn how to be amazed, to learn anything of the confession, “I’m not God. I don’t have this all figured out yet.” But as it turns out, church community is the place where I have found the form of wonder most perfected:

In a modest building right under Brooklyn’s JMZ line, Reverend Vito Aiuto’s head is bowed and he is beginning a sermon with the prayer, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, paraphrase).

Every week, this is the prayer. This is the prayer every week. Vito doesn’t believe in a novelty-god, evidently. But that’s the extent of my understanding, and so for over a year I sit dumbly in the pew as he repeats these words. The prayer feels appropriate so I leave it at that. One afternoon, however, I stumble upon the passage of Scripture where his prayer is located. Environed by the entire psalm, the verse becomes imbued with meaning. It begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world . . . May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable . . . ” (19:1–4).

Now I am beginning to understand the prayer. Vito is teaching us about right authority, about right punctuation. I think Vito is teaching us about good liturgy.

Again from last week, Taylor’s question, “How shall we break the silence?”

Because we are not the heavens, for heaven’s sake, we do not get to keep quiet. So we gather each week, our pastor with his Calls to Worship and Proclamations of the Word, and us with our Prayers of Adoration and Responses to Scripture, our “Thanks be to God’s” and our “And also with you’s.” To listen from the outside, it may sound like a lot of assertions. I myself am taken aback at times by the terrifying and audacious claims, the hopeful and child-like claims I recite on a given Sunday morning. Sometimes I almost believe the things I’m saying, and other moments I feel not nearly connected to the words coming out of my mouth.

But if my ears were better trained, I think I would hear, within the liturgical rites, questions. Good ones. Ones that have been thrown up to the heavens for centuries. Do you know what happens to a question once it has been refined and tested against time, against gravity itself? It becomes so smooth that it rolls off the tongue like a belief.

If questions are the punctuation for a people speaking to God out of finitude and weakness, then liturgy is the language. That we do not have the same authority as the skies, or even that oak tree across the street which will be stubborn in its witness in and out of season, only means that we must keep speaking, keep asking. The psalmist spells it out for us clearly: “Without a mouth the creation will tell it with more certainty than you. It’s a matter of ontological purity that each blade of grass is more truthful in its declaring. But as for you, use your words! Use your words!”

And so we do, acknowledging week after week that, only through Christ, are they acceptable to the Father. “May the words of my mouth” or “In Jesus’ name” become the endmark to a sentence fearfully drafted.

To continue drafting and rehearsing liturgy is our humble task, for it is one way in which we rightly relate to God. To call out to him with the same rote subject matter, confessions and inquiries is an assertion of our dependence—a reminder that we must wait on him to answer and respond because there is only so much we can possibly know this side of the food pantry.

This is a case for liturgy, not for liturgy’s sake, but for the sake of imagination—to get ours going. We who fall far short of the 437 ways to receive the kingdom of God like a child and would like a little help begging the question.

This is the new liturgist.



Photo Credit: Michael Newsted and Joanna Perry


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