LITURGY MATTERS: Wonder - at the heart of liturgy

Life has been conspiring to wake me up to the significance of wonder in human life − and therefore liturgy. I have to confess that I think I had become a bit ‘ho-hum’ about everything. This is not a good approach to life for one who professes to live in relationship with Jesus.

I have made a new friend recently. Her name is Rose. She is an artist. I count myself lucky to have three artist friends now.

On 14 January, Rose and I went on a train and plane trip all the way to Fremantle to participate in the Academy of Liturgy Conference. The theme was ‘The Art of Liturgy’ and much of the focus was on Sacred Art. Now you know why Rose was my companion. 

It is a wonderful experience to travel with an artist. Though be warned, one should always take a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and joggers!

We had some free time before the conference started so we went to Rottnest Island. Now I enjoyed Rottnest and I thought it was beautiful. But Rose saw a depth and detail in the beauty that I otherwise would have missed. She didn’t just see it. She delighted in it. It led her to question, to ponder, to reflect, to feel, to wonder. And all this led her to gratitude. Rose is a woman who is grateful for all the texture and colour of life.

Rose continued to be wonder-struck throughout the conference − by the people she met; the input and conversations that formed the program; the worship in different Churches; the music; the art; the meals and the friendship; the world of liturgical understanding that opened before her.

It struck me that wonder is dependent on openness − to new experiences; to different ideas; to new people; to questions; to faith sharing − to be moved and changed and stretched. Wonder requires attentiveness, mindfulness. We must listen and look and feel and sometimes wait for wonder as we wait upon the dawn, sometimes after the darkest of nights. Could we say that to wonder is to be vulnerable?

Rose has not been my only wonderful teaching companion of late. The other night a small group of us sat by the harbour. We saw a cruise ship depart and two cargo vessels arrive. How wonderful it is to watch those huge vessels as they are turned as if on a pinhead by a flotilla of tugboats. As we watched, and, yes, enjoyed a glass of wine, my friend Cathy told stories of her grandson who is at the age where everything is full of wonder. He is alert to it all and full of probing and penetrating questions, the type that pulls we adults up in our tracks and stretch us to find words to explain things about which we no longer wonder.

And on Sunday morning the Uniting Church community at Adamstown became my next wonderful teaching companion when I joined them for worship.  Different experiences promote wonder. I felt truly welcomed. I felt held and respected and included. I loved their prayer, and how it was so intimately connected to life, especially the issues around Australia Day. I loved the way the minister led the service. I loved his ‘under construction’ stole and how he used it to help the community deepen its understanding that all of us are always ‘under construction’ particularly as they accompany the ‘Emmanuel Spiritual Direction Formation Program’ which they will host for the next four years. I had a wonderful morning as I was drawn to reflect more deeply on our worship and my participation in it.

Is there a point to all this, you ask. What I have been reminded of by Rose and the conference, by our harbour and Cathy’s stories of her grandson and by the Uniting Church community and the people who are about to begin a four year formation process in the hope of becoming Spiritual Directors is … the centrality of wonder to authentic liturgy. Liturgy is our response to the experience of wonder. We who are open and attentive to the wonder of life in all its joys and sorrows and ordinariness; we who recognise God in all of it; we who live it in the company of God, must gather week in and week out to offer thanks and praise to God who gives it all freely in love and asks only for our love and companionship in return.  We come to worship with our hearts and hands full of this wonder-full life that we live.

Without wonder I would dare to say there is no liturgy. There might be a ritual that feels a bit ‘ho-hum’, but … the heart will be missing.   

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.