Sunday, January 08, 2006

Still asking ....

A recent visitor to this site, Jon, made some kind remarks about blethers and commented on my post "Why the Kirk?" as raising interesting questions. But I didn't really ask them rhetorically; I really want to hear what the "hymn sandwich" diet does to help the average worshipper achieve a sense of communion in the normal dreich Sunday when there are few sparks from the pulpit and no sharing in the eucharist to look forward to.

David also had some interesting comments, but I still cannot grasp how the whole structure of the C of S service assists "active" prayer - you're sitting down, you're not actually saying anything, you don't know what the minister will say next so you can hardly meditate on his words and you can't really shut him out - or can you? (I'm using male examples only for the sake of brevity)

Come on, guys - you obviously have more to share than you have so far.


  1. It seems this is one of these mutual imcomprehension things. You don't see what people could get out of a C of S service and I don't see what you don't understand! However, I'll do my best.

    "...but I still cannot grasp how the whole structure of the C of S service assists 'active' prayer" What do do you mean by "active"? If you mean, moving about (e.g standing up as in the Highland tradition, or kneeling as in the Episcopalian) then yes, I ususally remain sitting, but I normally bow my head, close my eyes and clasp my hands so I am physically active, just not as physically active as you. I'm being silly though. Clearly you don't just mean physical movement. Is it what the physical movement symbolises? Does the kneeling represent you humbling yourself before God? If so, I would argue that bowing my head symbolises the same thing. Are you more humble because you kneel? What about people who prostrate themselves flat on the floor are they doing it better than both of us? Again, I'm being silly. Surely the fact that some people sit, some kneel and some lie flat on the floor can't be the root of your problem? I don't see why the "you're sitting down" aspect can be that big a deal.

    You then develop this apparent lack of activeness by adding, "you're not actually saying anything". So the children in your English class were only active when they were speaking? Again, to me that seems silly. I don't have to say something out loud to feel I'm actively involved. You continue " don't know what the minister will say next so you can hardly meditate on his words". Again, you've lost me. To go back to the classroom again, did the children have to know what you were going to say in order to benefit from it?

    Two further thoughts on this. Firstly, spoken prayers and responses are not totally unheard of in the C of S. Every week we say the Lord's prayer. At baptismal services we say (or usually sing) the Aaronic blessing. Saying the Grace together at the end of meetings is standard practice. There are sung amens. Congregational responses are not regular occurances, but do happen, for example at the New Year service we attended, as a congregation we renewed our covenant with God.

    Secondly, just because I'm saying something out loud doesn't gaurantee that I am actively involved. For example, I can more or less put my brain in neutral while saying my times tables. I don't see how reading a prayer someone else has written, or reciting a prayer I have memorised is necessarily better than listening to someone else lead me in prayer.

    Your final salvo is, "...and you can't really shut him out - or can you?," Now you've really lost me. Why would I want to shut out the person leading me in prayer? If I want to pray on my own, I can do that without having to go to church. If I want to take part in the corporate prayer of the church, why would I want to shut out the other people in the church who are praying? I guess I've missed your meaning here because I can't see what point you are trying to make. Sorry.

    Finally, (and sorry for the long reply) I can only repeat what I said the last time. If you are passive during any part of worship - prayer, praise or preaching - then you are doing it wrong. If what you are saying is that kneeling and saying responsive prayers helps you pray to God then I say, "Good stuff". If you are saying that that's the only way to do it effectively I say, "Stuff and nonsense". The Bible tells us we should pray. I'm not convinced that it tells us we have to kneel, or say stuff out loud. It may be that some ways are less helpful than others, and it may be that we can learn from other traditions, but I don't think there is any one right way to do it for everyone or for all occasions. If there are "few sparks from the pulpit" the problem might be with the person in the pulpit rather than the tradition or the denomination. And having problems with the person in the pulpit is not a phenomenon unique to the C of S! :-) I can't speak for the "average worshiper" but the hymns can help me focus on God, they lead me to consider the theme of the passage being preached, they help me to respond to God's teaching. The prayers introduce, develop and respond to the Biblical message. The preaching reveals God, reveals applications of his word to my life and challenges me to be a better Christian. If I thought about it longer, I could probably add to the above list of things I get out of a "hymn sandwich diet", but I hope it gives you a flavour.

    Hope this helps explain it a bit better.

  2. First of all - thank you for taking the time to reply so fully. I think it is indeed mutual incomprehension. I was bowled over by the liturgy of the SEC when I discovered it in my 20s, having been untouched in any way by ther services (CofS) I'd attended till I was 14 or so. Now when I go to services in the local Kirks - usually funerals, I suppose - I miss what are really aids to worship. I've been fairly restrained in what I've mentioned - I could have included incense, crossing oneself, genuflecting.. none of which I was brought up with but all of which have become helpful/meaningful in developing my relationship with God.
    What about thinking in terms of a human relationship? As we deepen a relationship, we use physical gesture to reinforce what we share - a handshake, a hug, a kiss and so on. The relationship deepens, not solely because of such gestures, but helped by them. After all, some emotions are beyond words - and kneeling, for example, *can* feel like the only response appropriate. It's not a "look at me" moment, though - and nor is it when someone prostrates themselves in prayer.
    As for prayer - I don't see that as a learning situation. That's for the sermon, or the Study group. When I lead Intercessions I try not to present a shopping list of my own pet concerns, but rather to provide a vehicle for each worshipper's. So the language is at once as powerful and as simple as I can make it.
    I'm not going to cover all your points; you're obviously able to participate in ways I can't through your own type of service. There is a kind of rigour about this kind of churchgoing that I find daunting, although many, many people seem not to find it so. Obviously this has to be the case - our church is tiny compared to the Kirk. Perhaps I'm even wondering what I'd do if my own was closed down ....