Signs of (Spiritual) Life: Discovering the Beauty of the Liturgical Year

Image by Crystal Hurd
Image by Crystal Hurd

By Crystal Hurd

I am a recent “convert,” if you wish to call it that.

Not to Christianity, of course. I was born and raised in the south, where Christianity is as popular as iced tea and Elvis and SEC football.

I grew up a Baptist and have experienced it in its many forms. My parents are Free Will Baptist, with cherished hymns and colored suits and forehead-mopping preachers who would often pound the pulpit with religious fervor and conviction. Our preacher was not one for yelling and stomping, but visiting pastors would (I remember thinking as a kid, “If he loves Jesus, why is he so mad?”). The bluegrass groups performed in matching outfits and the men around me would howl “Amens” at them.

But something just didn’t fit for me.

Later, I attended a purpose-driven church with jeans and coffee and contemporary worship. They were technically nondenominational, but were affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. After a time, I found myself disagreeing with doctrinal issues, not with the church itself, but with LARGER aspects of Baptist doctrine. I had to ask myself the difficult question: theologically, am I even Baptist at all?

Researching and writing about C.S. Lewis led me to a wonderful group of artists, writers, and thinkers, among them was the poet Malcolm Guite. A fan of his sonnets, I ordered Sounding the Seasons, sonnets composed about the liturgical year. They are beautiful, elegant, and moving. I ended up purchasing a copy of the Book of Common Prayer on my Kindle and perusing through the various prayers. My curiosity was piqued. I didn’t know the first thing about the liturgical year. I had heard terms like “Ash Wednesday” and “Epiphany,” but I didn’t know the spiritual implications of these terms, nor the practices that accompany them.

So I decided to do some searching. I attended a Lutheran Church recently, and felt comfortable with it. My husband minored in World Religion in college (majoring in History) but he also has a degree in Biblical Studies from Andersonville Theological Seminary. We had long discussions about the theological and traditional aspects of the different denominations we were considering.

And I always came back to a passage in the Book of Common Prayer shared with me by a friend. Several months ago, I was juggling too many tasks and felt the weight in my spirit. She recommended the Prayer of Quiet Confidence:

O GOD of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It made me seriously consider what my real beliefs were, and what church body would offer me the religious succor I needed. I was starving. For years, I had nodded in agreement when my heart felt something different. Why had I waited so long? Perhaps because I didn’t have the courage to ask the right questions. But now I felt something completely different. Earlier in my life and spiritual journey, I had not understood the use of scripted prayer, but now I was beginning to see the beauty of the liturgical year. I loved Malcolm’s poetry and wanted to chase that beauty he depicted. I wanted to worship that deity in the way those individuals had. I wanted to make the liturgy a part of my daily routine. A few months ago, while I was still straddling the denomination fence, I picked up a book entitled The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister.  I began reading it and understood the whole patterns of grace and hope, the reverence and obedience. It all made sense, and it didn’t seem oppressive or ascetic.

My ignorance of the liturgical year and of the traditional church holidays is embarrassing, frankly. But I am beginning to learn. I feel seeds of curiosity and desire growing under the cold frost of my neglect. Time and study will remedy this, will water the seed to fruition. But for now, I will not punish myself for such a tardy start. I refer to Malcolm’s sonnet The Singing Bowl from his most recent collection of the same name.

Begin the song exactly where you are.
Remain within the world of which you are made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air.

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing, Keep it deep and slow

Become an open singing bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And Timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly as you are.

Reference

Guite, M. (2013). The Singing Bowl. Canterbury Press Norwich.

 

*****

Dr. Crystal Hurd is a writer, reader, public school educator, and adjunct professor.  She is happily married with three beautiful Terriers (adopted from local shelters).  She is a certified book nerd who loves to read and research works involving faith, literature, art, and leadership.  You can visit her webpage  www.crystalhurd.com , friend her on Facebook, (Crystal Sullivan Hurd) and follow her on Twitter:  @DoctorHurd and @hurdofficial.

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