There I sat, thinking ‘blog post, blog post… there must be something to say that I can say… blog post…’  wondering if the blogging bit of my brain is still in a moving box somewhere.

Various distractions.  The knowledge that I didn’t want this to take to long as it’s a busy day… General feeling of being lost, and then it happened.

I felt myself do it.  Deep breath, and start saying the Lord’s Prayer.

For years, I’ve used the Lord’s Prayer as a way to gain focus.  I realise that this might be a dubious use of the Lords prayer, but it works.  If I need to re-centre, find stable ground:  deep breath, ‘Our Father…’

We need rituals like this.

On Saturday, I offered coffee at the rectory to anyone who wanted to get together to talk about particular themes that had come up in the sermon the week before, or about anything we’d been doing in worship in July.  At some point, we got to talking about what happens before the service:  how we prepare for worship, and it was the classic dilemma.  Greeting people and hearing how they are is an important part of gathering.  But if that goes on till the very second that the priest says ‘Grace and Peace to you’,  then we’ve missed a stage.  Most of us need a buffer zone between conversation and prayer — a way to shift gears so that we are able to be as present to God as we are to each other.

deep breath — Our Father…

I use it then too.  Now, I’m the sort of person who likes a pretty big buffer zone.  On those rare occasions when I simply ‘go to church’, I go almost ridiculously early.  I go when few are gathered, as a way of getting real silence, and I begin with deep breath… Lord’s prayer.  After that, come a whole range of things:  a few specific prayers about the reality of that day; a naming of my restlessness or the shape of tensions, a naming of the things I hope and desire and resolve; and then a conscious drop into silence.

After that I resurface, look around, read the pew sheet, start deliberately noticing the people around me who (by now) have begun to arrive.  By then I don’t mind if they say good morning, because I am already far enough ‘in’ that I can regain focus when I need to.

But even then there will come a time — a minute or two before the service — when I take off my glasses, close my eyes, and settle into anticipation.

Some of the people there on Saturday acknowledged how difficult it is to make space for both greeting/gathering and focusing.   And I suspect each one of us has to find — and shape — our own way of doing this.

But what it a blog, if not a resource for sharing?

How do you handle that space between walking through the church door, and the first spoken words of the liturgy?  What works for you?

One of the things I’m working on quite consciously right now is how we balance the needs of different personality types (as well as age groups) in worship, so I’m hoping all of you energetic extroverts there (Mother Ruth?) will also tell me if I’m missing the point, and you need to be able to talk right up to the very end.

21 thoughts on “rituals”

  1. Why would using the LP to gain focus be dubious? Sometimes the mantra type of prayer is what we need as in the Rosary (of which the LP is an integral part).

    For me the begining of the service when not “functioning” is a time when I close my eyes and use the rhythm of breath to centre. I found a good exercise years ago in Anthony de Mello: imagine you are drawing a peace giving yellow smoke into your body and being and picture it flowing through your body bringing peace as it swirls. Possibly it clicked for me with my nicotine addiction, but I still find it helps. I usually read the reading before starting so that thoughts can surface or emerge in the quiet and help me to connect with the theme of the Sunday. But hey, I’m an introvert and rather of the mind that you talk to God before Mass and each other afterwards.

  2. If I have a chance to read the readings, that’s best. I do however regard myself as being essentially there to serve others, and if they want to talk, I make myself available, hopefully getting out in order to let us and everybody else be quiet in time enough (and often failing). I suppose in purposefully serving I find an entry. That is the real truth.

  3. Rosemary — gosh what a lot you fit in as you fly down the aisle during the first hymn! (or are you bright and early now that you have a cathedral to play in?)

    Fr Dougal — fascinated by the smoking analogy. The thought of being filled with yellow smoke does nothing whatsoever for me — though were it azure… maybe.

    thanks for still being here!

  4. Not only early but embarrassingly so – I now have a much longer journey to make up time over should I need to and can never believe the drive to Glasgow will take less time than the drive to other parts of Ayrshire used to.

    I have to say I was highly reluctant to arrive early at St Paul’s because of this very conflict. I would get too far into conversation and get into trouble (the thing which most upsets me) so tried to arrive too late for speech by any count, and still as the service lay ahead of me. This calls for better time keeping than lies within my skill set.

    I was never ever late when I was Warden (or rather, moments late and still more than half an hour early).

  5. I don’t think the colour of the smoke matters – yellow was something to do with saffron (I’m a bit hazy on anything to do with Eastern religions), but I’m sure azure is just fine.

  6. Urge the censor to be true to its nature. After all, as Kingfishers catch fire, each thing does one thing and the same, and Transfiguration seems a good occasion to do it.

    Now you see, with anybody else I would be tempted to include helpful pointers to the steps elided above.

  7. I’ve found that the rigmarole of censing altars seems (for some reason) to cause flutters in pisky congregations. But just having the stuff standing free and burning doing its “Let my prayer rise before you” job seems to cause less upset. Merely a thought for a less stressful Transfiguration:-).

  8. Don’t censor Transfiguration! If you want to use the censer, that’s fine (for those who like that sort of thing).

  9. I wear the badge proudly!

    And a propos the main topic of this thread, you will recall a certain church on the south side of Glasgow where people seem to natter longer and louder than average, besides making a ‘buffer zone’ almost impossible by persistently trundling in late. I suppose I should welcome the vigour of the greetings during the gathering, but a bit more silence at the beginning would be helpful.

    I’ll work on it.

  10. I find sitting with people with similar levels of ok-to-say-hello-yet-have-a-bit-of-quiet-before-it-all-starts-because-there’s-time-to-catch-up-afterwards-ness helps (being surrounded by so many empty pews probably does too 😦 ). I also find gazing up at the ceiling works to calm me down and set my mind on things above. But then we do have a rather impressive ceiling. Other architectural features can no doubt be employed for the purpose in less imposing buildings.

  11. Funnily enough, on Thu I was not presiding at the Holy Mysteries but found myself going down at the same time as if I were. Realised this was because I needed to listen to the chat of the oldies while +Alan was downstairs praying – for over 30 minutes!! Imagine that!

    We usually ring a bell 5 mins before the service as a signal to keep quiet but as I wasn’t presiding it didn’t get done. However I was the first to drift over to the seats and to kneel for my prep prayers. Everyone followed and after a while I noticed them twitching and realised I’d moved rather too early and we still had 7 mins to go! That’s the longest they’ve been quiet too!

    So when I’m pew fodder I do still need prep time in quiet, to kneel preferably and to say the LP and an HM and any other petitions and make the sign of the cross. Then I sit and look around – not at the people actually but at the gorgeous things around me all put there for the glory of God. Dust motes in the sunlight, candles flickering before a statue, the blues and purples in stained glass, the sheen on the pews, the face of Jesus on the rood cross… Just realised that I have been describing St M & AS! And that’s why extroverts love catholic churches because there’s so much to look at.

    But when I’m presiding… well we’ve been there before. I do struggle with the silence thing and although i initiated the 5 min silence rule, I don’t always keep it myself. I love welcoming and chatting and then that last 5 mins is my check-list time. Have I got my specs, pew sheet, read over sermon, first hymn – all that sort of thing. I hate not being prepared. But I do always read the Prayer for Prep before Mass by the Additional Curates Socy which is very old fashioned but there you are.

    Thhink I may need to blog about this myself. Sorry for taking up so much room on yours!

  12. Pride comes before a fall. A phone call. A milk tanker with a tail of traffic for eight miles, travelling at between 25 and 30 mph. Embarrassingly early turned into impressively late – you’re right. Stillness, bible reading, greeting and the first hymn is too much multi tasking for any one person.

  13. 10.30am Prayer Book. It happens to coincide with the monthly MU links service, and since my godchildren are here and there is no tradition of marking Transfiguration, I decided to take the easy route.

  14. When I’m not serving, I think I’m doing well to get to church by 10.28 (and no, that’s not for a 11.00 start). Perhaps more time would be beneficial.

    When I’m serving, preparation for worship usually begins when walking down the aisle. Sometimes in the prayer in the hall before we begin – but at that stage I’m usually still thinking through what I have to do in the service. And it does have to be said that the sacristy is not a place of stillness and solemnity before the service. But that space sometimes prepares me best of all. I suppose if I was timely, I could sit in the church before going into the sacristy. Hmm. What a thought!

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