“It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. … What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and repetitive motions are conducive to devotions such as the Jesus Prayer or the rosary.”  ~Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work’

In the truest sense worship is about increasing our God-consciousness which I have found requires a decreasing awareness of myself and an opening of myself completely to the present moment of time. My ability to achieve this state varies from week to week. It is not an on/off state, but more of a continuum that I move within.

As Kathleen reminds us, it is the routine that enables this process. As we move into the familiar liturgy and hymns, we move into a familiar place, a place where we can relax. We know the rhythm of the service – it has been written in our core by repetition. This intimate awareness frees us from our self and allows us to move along the continuum away from self awareness and more fully into the present moment which plants us in the presence of the Divine (actually God is always there, it is our awareness of God’s presence that is heightened).

This process is similar to an athlete who before any game has run countless drills in order to make the required movements ‘automatic’ – so much a part of themselves that they can execute the required moves without thought, confident of the outcome, thus freeing them to focus not on the basics of their movements or execution – these will occur automatically because of the repetition – but instead freeing them to respond to the tactics and strategies of their opponent in the particular contest (i.e. the conditions of the moment).

C. S. Lewis in his Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer discusses this same phenomena with the admonition that change in the worship service forces the worshipper to move from a state of God-consciousness into a state of ‘self’-consciousness due to the unfamiliar. Once the change has been practiced, it then becomes routinized and the worshipper is able to move away from their consciousness of self once again.

I once attended a church where the choirmaster was keenly aware of this phenomena and very respectful of the congregation gathered in that place. He made it a point never to add a hymn to the service that the congregation didn’t already know without preparing them for it. For two or three weeks prior to it being sung as a hymn during worship, he played it as part of the prelude or postlude. The week before the congregation sang it for the first time, it was used as one of the choir’s anthems. During the service that the hymn was sung for the first time, he played it through completely once, prior to the singing. This meant that the congregation had heard the piece 4-5 times before they ever sang it. What a blessing he was! How incredibly caring and thoughtful! This was a marvelous place to worship.

So don’t fight the routine in worship lose yourself in it! God is waiting for you!

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