"It looks as if they [Anglican clergymen] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgments, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. . . . [T]hey don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you will, to enact it. . . . The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. . . . I can make do with almost any kind of church service, if only it will stay put."
(C.S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcolm)
When out walking today, I did not wear my long underwear. I hope I can say that here, reader. Search all my blogs and you'll find nary a mention of underwear. So, it's overdue.
Six days a week, on good weeks, I walk the same well-trod sidewalks and streets. I turn the same corners, register the same trees, say hello to the same elderly gentleman out walking the same dog, make note and avoid the same tree root thrust out of the sidewalk, give a Monk-like touch to the same stop sign as I round the final turn, traverse the same rutted road side where there is no sidewalk, and silently tick off the steps to home. And, in winter, I wear the same long underwear.
As much as I love walking in varied surroundings and enjoy the outdoors, whether natural areas or city streets, I'm not focused on my surroundings when I do this walk. In fact, I'm barely aware of where I am. That's just the way I want it. I have two objectives: exercise, and prayer, and stray thoughts. (Oops, that's three.) That's right, I want to let my mind come unhinged, a kind of free association permeated by prayer, a sanctified mindful distraction. I don't need outside distractions when I'm trying to focus on following every thought that arises internally. I don't need novelty. I need to keep moving. I need to focus my thoughts. Forgetting your long underwear on a nippy, windy day is a distraction, chilling both objectives.
Lewis has it right. Just like my walk, there are settled paths in worship that are best when left in place so that the forms themselves recede like a well-worn pair of shoes, leaving us to just be the worshippers we were meant to be. We breathe best when we don't have to think about breathing. We fall asleep best when we're not thinking about falling to sleep. We relate best to others when we're not trying to follow some technique. We worship best when we are so at home in the forms of worship that we are simply enacting the worship, actors in a drama unaware of props and set.
So forget novelty. Give me a ruddy path, an order of worship for the ages, hymns and songs that have endured. . .and long underwear.
I've seen a lot of church. Novelty can be so boring. More and more, I'm for staying put, for, as Lewis said, "permanence and uniformity."