Observing Others


The current issue of Creative Transformation includes an article by Paul Nancarrow titled "On a Whiteheadian Liturgical Spirituality." The article discusses ways of experiencing a liturgical spirituality from the perspective of process theology. These are ways "to deepen the experience of liturgy as a proposition, a lure to feeling the presence and purpose of God."

The author provides a long list of suggestions, and it includes such ideas as "be attentive", "locate yourself in the worship space", "join in the congregational passages", and so forth. He writes,

The flow of action from one moment to another in a ritual celebration lures worshipers' feelings towards certain kinds of combinations--connections of thoughts, emotions, memories, and intentions that an old Anglican prayer calls "the beauty of holiness." The liturgy is a lure to holiness, which forms and empowers worshipers to go forth from the liturgy and live in holy and just and peaceable ways. (Emphasis added)
I think this is all wonderful, but what caught my attention in particular was that one of his suggestions was "observe the people around you." The reason this struck me is that I found myself doing just that last night while I attended a Taize service.

The service was in some ways a little disappointing. The individual who usually leads it was away, and I presume he is involved in developing the program, because the nature of the texts that were included in the service seemed different--more traditional and more explicitly focused on orthodox Christian doctrines than usual. What I found myself paying more attention to on this occasion was the people in the service--the way they went to the cross on the floor to place a candle, the way they knelt to pray there, even the way they walked back to the pews. The earnestness, the sincerity, the depth of meaning that the service gave to them somehow gave the service more meaning to me.

Nancarrow writes,
Engage in a little "spiritual people-watching." As you notice who is with you, remember that each of them is a subject, each brings his or her own needs and gifts and concerns and baggage and aspirations to this liturgy. Be attentive to how people move, how they sound, how they participate. Look at the people around you and be mindful of the relationships you share, especially the relationships created and embodied in this very liturgical action. As a child, I was taught that it is not polite to stare at people in church; but I think now that paying attention to people in church is not only a matter of courtesy, it is a practice of building up communion in the social environment of prayer.