Mystery and The Mundane
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Worship is something that people do, and in doing worship people experience it. In experiencing worship, people are profoundly changed. The exact way God works through the experience of worship is a mystery. It is a mystery because it is something that is experienced by the whole self, rather than simply learned cognitively by the mind or planned and executed by worship leaders. Mystical worship is the experience of time standing still, of all of the people of God gathered around his throne, of the promise of his presence being made real by the reality of his sacraments. Worship is a mystery, a mystical experience that one later reflects on, a mystery of heaven on earth.
But is it also very practical and mundane. Musicians practice, preachers prepare, lectors rehearse, usher prepare pews, and volunteers fold bulletins. Regular folks show up, entering the very presence of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, but still regular folks. Families, single people, young, middle aged, and old people. And as mystical as Anglican worship is, it never stops being practical. It puts a book or order of worship in your hand. It assumes you mean what you say, or you wouldn’t say it. It encourages the fusion of heaven and earth by bringing the two together in a very simple and yet profound way. It touches heaven but never leaves the ground.
Take for example, the Collect for Purity. “Almighty God to you all hearts are open, no secrets are hid…” speaks of the mystery of divine knowledge, transcendence beyond human understanding. “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit” speaks to the mundane, human reality that our hearts need cleansing and the thoughts therein are not always (maybe seldom) very healthy. And to the fact that, let’s be honest, our minds tend to wander in church. “That we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your Holy Name” brings heaven to earth by asking for divine intervention in a human action. The prayer mirrors the ritual acts of bowing, making the sign of the cross, and raising the hands – physical, human acts, and yet actions which indicate that these worshippers believe that God is actually here – a mystery.
Anglicans accept the mystery that God uses means, practical and physical means, to give new life and grace to his people. We don’t know exactly how he does this, but we know from Scripture that in a mysterious way, Christ makes himself known to us, and present with us in the breaking of bread and the taking of the cup. This sacramental view of worship is the foundation of the sense of mystery in Anglican worship, but also the bridge between mystery and practicality. That is, God (mystery) made present in something we can touch and taste (practicality).
How should we understand this kind of paradox of mysticism and practicality? There are many aspect of any church tradition of worship that we can read about, that we can learn from, and that in some way we can fully understand. But the mystical practicality of Anglicanism is an aspect of our worship that one must experience to know. It is not easily put into words, it is not easy to break down and analyze. It simply must be learned be picking up a prayer book with fellow worshippers and going from there.
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