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Worship as acting

“Isn’t it unnatural to do all that standing and kneeling and unfamiliar singing?” A parishioner asks as we meet for coffee one morning. “Why do we have to do all those strange things?”

Having grown up in a low-church denomination, I hadn’t done any of that standing or kneeling or singing songs with such elevated language for the first twenty years as a Christian. However, it was exactly those things, our ancient liturgy, which attracted me to Anglicanism in the first place. I had been awestruck at the breadth and depth of community assumed in praying and singing the same words in churches all over the world and throughout time.

Returning to my coffee companion, knowing he was an amateur actor when he was not busy being a medical doctor, I asked, “When you’re practicing and rehearsing for a play, why do you memorize your lines and block out your steps and imagine your character’s walk, and accent, and life history?” My meaning dawned on him immediately, “We’re learning to inhabit that person, we end up getting to know our character so well that we blur the line between ourselves and the characters we’re playing. At church, we pray with particular words, and speak in a specific way and move our bodies unnatural ways (standing, kneeling, crossing ourselves) to try to make them habits somehow.”

In the best sense, we behave differently in church than we do at other times — we are listening more closely, we are moving our bodies with reverence, and we are using strange language like “peace,” and “death,” and “redemption.” Our practice at church on Sunday mornings, as well as at other times, helps us become more and more comfortable with that person who is a good, quiet listener, a person who communicates reverence with her gait, and who speaks in a way that gives us pause. It is our hope and prayer that the line between ourselves and the characters we are inhabiting in church may become more and more blurred, that we may actually be that Sunday morning person throughout the entire week.

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