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“If people want ‘play’ and ‘merriment’ in liturgy, it can only be because they’ve lost Joy.”

This piece is packed full of great tidbits. Here are some of them:

Why are traditional liturgies traditionally performed (I mean normal and usual) considered unfit for children?  We don’t pave children’s streets, build children’s houses and construct children’s airplanes?  They seem to do just fine.  Children always aspire to be adults.  They like to approach adult-dom.  I’m not sure how much they like adults to approach kid-dom.  Kids assume that the realm of adult life is stable, and that kid life is in flux.  Why do adults think that kids want adults to go backward and make their world the status quo?  Did you, as a kid?  I didn’t.  I consider that issue now closed.

Why do so many try to make liturgy the realm of “play” and “merriment” as I’ve defined them above? We don’t try to make hide-and-seek liturgical. And we don’t ritualize parties. Neither should we. Games and sport don’t need to be sacralized; they are accepted as legitimate in and of themselves. And while parties introduce many dangers (drunkenness, idle talk, gossip), even the Amish gather socially as do monks. They simply don’t require defending; they are accepted as completely natural. Why is liturgy, almost alone amongst human activity, not accorded this natural status? Why, for it to continue into contemporary life, does liturgy need to be constantly tweaked, molded, fiddled with, and combined with other endeavors in order to have its legitimacy?

It does not.

If people want “play” and “merriment” in liturgy, it can only be because they’ve lost Joy. Joy is a definite liturgical virtue. We bring it with us to liturgical observance and we take it away. We bring to liturgy the joy we have in life fostered by family, work, experience, forgiveness, belonging and hope. We take away a renewed sense of joy as we encounter divine forgiveness, beauty, eternal perspective and the ground of faith.

Seriousness is not antithetical to Joy. Dourness is no servant of seriousness.

Formality does not invite coldness. When it is distant and unfeeling, it is not cured by changing a text because the sickness is not the form but the heart. Conversion is wanted.

If in our liturgical observances and celebrations we are getting bored, the Cat in the Hat will provide no cure. If our children aren’t aspiring to be grown-ups, and are not feeling welcomed and invited in our celebrations, introducing flippant “merriment” and out-of-place “play” isn’t going to rectify that situation.

If Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, it cannot be manufactured or devised, planned or contained. It can be sinned against by hypocrisy and idolatry. It can be suppressed by the legalist and judgmental. But where the Truth is proclaimed and lived with integrity and authenticity, it will abound. And it will spread.

And children will catch it.

Thanks to Greg Linscott for directing my attention to it.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

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