Liturgy and the Rhythms of Life

It’s interesting to reflect on how there are so many rhythms simply built into creation and we operate in conjunction with those rhythms almost without thinking. The seasons change and we adjust accordingly. You dress differently based on the seasons. You plan your activities for the time of year best suited for them. Your expectations for the world around you reflect this time also. Spring brings rain and new growth. Summer brings warmth and bright colors all around. Autumn brings cooler weather and changes in the trees. Winter mutes the colors all around us until the cycle can begin again.

Each year we go through this cycle and we know how to operate within it. Unseasonable weather isn’t a problem in and of itself. Snow, rain, and heat are all things you deal with every year already, depending on where you live. Unseasonable weather is only a problem because it does not flow along the usual rhythm we expect out of the year. It forces us to alter course for a bit until the rhythm of seasons reasserts itself and we can go back to what we expect.

The week itself does this too. The seven day week is so ingrained in us that it is almost universally observed, not just around the world but also throughout all of history. The few adjustments that show up are fleeting and often are temporary. It is one of the basic building blocks upon which our society operates and we all, quite naturally, fall into the rhythm of the week.

It is here again that the liturgy finds us. The liturgical year establishes a rhythm. By following in the footsteps of Christ from year to year, we also walk through many of the different aspects of our spiritual lives. Repentance in Advent, followed by the remembrance of God’s promise fulfilled at Christmas. Epiphany calls us to reflect on our own calling to be part of the people of God. Lent reminds us of the need for ongoing repentance and that the dangers of sin are ever-present. Easter shows us the glory of God’s triumph, bringing life and immortality to light. We see a picture of the end and what our own lives will be like as we are joined to Christ. Pentecost then reminds us we are a part of God’s kingdom not just in eternity, but also here and now. The Pentecost season winds down by showing us that the eager expectation of the saints in the Old Testament is carried forward to our own day. What God promised and fulfilled once by sending His Son, He has promised and will fulfill again.

One, often overlooked, reason for lethargy in church and personal life is “unseasonable weather.” When you are out of step with the rhythms of the liturgy, your walk with Jesus and reception of His Word may not flow as intended. This is one reason why the church finds itself at odds with the outside world during Advent. The rest of the world is gearing up for Christmas from a commercial perspective and, once Christmas has come and gone, has no need for it anymore. In the church, Christmas is just the beginning of the celebration and it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on Advent when the world has distorted it to the extent it has.

Up until fairly recently, the local parish was the center of community and family life. The liturgical rhythms were the foundation of everything that went on around it. Sadly, that has ceased to be the case in the Western world. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking extra time to be a part of what the church is doing often sounds like an added burden, but, for those who make the effort to do so, the rewards are innumerable. Conforming your life to the life of Christ will benefit you in ways you can’t even imagine. As St. Paul discovered, the more you focus on Christ, the more the rest of your life falls into place as your trust in God grows.

This Lenten season, immerse yourself in the liturgical rhythms of the church. Find the time to be a part of Lenten worship, especially through Holy Week. Find an Easter vigil at a church near you. God created the rhythms of creation to order and organize your life. Those rhythms continue in the church. He created them for your benefit. Use them and you will see firsthand what a blessing they can be.

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