Online Conversation | Liturgy of the Ordinary in Extraordinary Times
On Friday, May 22, 2020 The Trinity Forum partnered with Coracle to welcome the Trinity Forum’s newest senior fellow and award-winning author, Tish Harrison Warren. In this conversation Tish shares how the insights from her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary are more applicable than ever in the midst of this global pandemic.
Special thanks to this event’s sponsors: Brent and Katie Allen.
Painting is Rembrandt’s The Stone Bridge, 1637.
Opening and closing song is “A Hidden Life” by James Newton Howard
Special thanks to this event’s sponsors:
Brent and Katie Allen
Transcript of “Liturgy of the Ordinary in Extraordinary Times” with Tish Harrison Warren
Cherie Harder: It’s been said that when it comes to this pandemic, we are not all on the same boat, but we are all in the same storm. Many people are suffering acutely. Others of us are anxious, restless, and uncertain. But for all of us, and for all of our uncertainty, we know that our world is changing and that we are being altered as well: in our habits, our routines, and our priorities. So it seemed a fitting time to be able to discuss “A Liturgy of the Ordinary in Extraordinary Times.” We are so glad to be joined by our guest today, Tish Harrison Warren. Tish is the author of the luminous work and her first book, “Liturgy of the Ordinary,” which was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in 2018 and has since been translated into Dutch, French, and Korean. She’s an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of North America, worked for over a decade in campus ministry at Vanderbilt as well as UT Austin, and is currently a writer-in-residence at the Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her articles and essays have appeared quite widely and broadly, including in the New York Times, Christianity Today, Art House America, Comment, and the Point, and we hear that she has a new book coming soon. I should also add that, I’m very proud to say, she is a brand-new Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum. Tish, welcome.
Tish Harrison Warren: Thank you.
Cherie Harder: Tish, let’s just dive right in and start the very beginning. What is liturgy and how does it form us?
Tish Harrison Warren: That’s a good question. When we think about liturgy, we tend to think about what we do on Sunday, and particularly we think about what the “liturgical people” do on Sunday – Catholic folks or Lutherans or Anglicans. We think of sort of formal church ceremony. One of the points I make in the book is that all religious communities have liturgy. I grew up in a church that would not have considered themselves liturgical in any way. But if I had to miss on a Sunday, I could know with pretty decent accuracy within about five minutes what was happening in the service that I was missing, because we did repetitive practices. I’m borrowing this largely from James K.A. Smith: that liturgy is intentional, formative practices. Practices that form us that are connected to a deeper question of meaning, that we do repetitively and typically in community. So that’s liturgy. I play that to our daily life as well, which is where the name and the idea of the book comes from.
Cherie Harder: And how does liturgy form us?
Tish Harrison Warren: Every human being is formed by the things we do, our practices – particularly our rituals and our habits. More and more research is showing that we are so formed by habit, that our actual conscious thinking is such a diminishingly small part of our conscious life, that a lot of who we are is formed by habit. It’s not that what we believe, our doctrine, doesn’t matter. It does deeply matter. I mention this some in my next book: the role that doctrine plays in the stories that we form our lives around is hugely important. But it’s interesting – we can say, for instance, the Nicene Creed, which Christians hold to. But if all of our habits and all of our rituals […] are built around […] nationalism or militarism, then we even though we don’t proclaim – well, here’s an example, I bring this up in the book. My smart phone. I didn’t wake up and say, “I believe in Steve Jobs, the maker of heaven and earth. I believe that technology will save us.” But every morning, repetitively, I would without thinking immediately go to news, to tweets, to the technological device but also all the loudness that that entails. Little by little, over time, that shapes your love; that shapes your heart. So I would say that formative practices or liturgy shapes the things that we are aimed at, shapes our telos – what we are looking for – again, [as] James K.A. Smith would say, what we look at as the good life. It shapes our imagination of what it means to be human, what it means to be fully alive. And so these things end up shaping what we believe and who we are deeply. And that goes for everyone. That goes for Christians and non-Christians alike. The things that we repetitively give our time to, give our energy to, give our attention to, are the things that in the end shape our hearts and who we are. And most of that is by habit.
Cherie Harder: In the course of doing a little bit of research for this discussion, I read an interview you did – I think it was with the Anglican Church of North America – where you said that you wrote this book because you were trying to figure out your own life. What were you trying to figure out about your life, and did it work?
Tish Harrison Warren: I think all writers write because they’re trying to figure out their own life. That’s a big statement, to say all writers. Let me say most writers write because we’re trying to figure out our own life. Almost always the first draft is for us. It’s because we are wrestling with something. I am a person that wrestles deeply, and it takes me 70,000 words to figure out what I believe, so God has graciously allowed me to figure out things through writing. The thing that I was trying to figure out with “Liturgy of the Ordinary” in particular is, as I grew up, I had a passion for social justice, for impacting the world. I was part of a campus ministry group in college that would use the language of world-changers – we wanted to be formed as world-changers. I had these passions that I think are deeply biblical: the biblical call for justice, to care for others, to make a difference and impact in the world. All of those things are not bad. But I had no idea how to live that out in any kind of ordinary world and life of limits – limits in energy, limits in your body, limits of the sphere that you can affect. I ended up in my late 20s, early 30s – my husband was in grad school, I had recently finished seminary, I had two little kids, and I had no idea what discipleship looked like in my daily life. There was one day in particular – I had lived overseas in Africa and very briefly worked among the poorest of the poor, and there was some real physical danger that we exposed ourselves to, because the part of East Africa we were in had some guerrilla warfare. There were some dicey situations when I was there. And I realized that where I was in my ordinary life, with two kids and figuring out our mortgage and our life, that I had more fear and anxiety on a regular basis than I did in what looked like a more risky situation overseas. So I wrote a piece called “Courage in the Ordinary” for a blog. I was fairly new writer at the time. The blog was InterVarsity’s The Well, which is for women in the academy and profession. And it went crazy viral. I got emails from people saying, “You’ve described my struggle.” I realized then, this isn’t just something that I wrestle with. This is something that a lot of us wrestle with. We think about how we will follow Jesus if the hurricane comes, if we get a million dollars, if this relationship works out, but don’t know how to follow God in the actual life that we are living today, this moment. We get wrapped up in the vastness of ideas of theology, but also the vast suffering of the world, and don’t know how to put our oar in the little pond that we have been given, the space that we have been given. So I was trying to figure that out. I read a lot of books at the time. There had been a bunch of books on being radical for Jesus and sold out and on fire. Then there was this sort of counter-reaction of a lot of books about ordinariness. They were all about how our ordinary life matters. That was very helpful, but I kept coming back to saying, but how? But why? I don’t just want the fact that my ordinary life matters to be another point of doctrine in my head, like as I’m doing the laundry, just repeating to myself, “This matters to God. This matters to God.” I really was asking questions about why and how. What I came to in the midst of that is the notion of formation. What is spiritual formation? How are we formed as people? When I say spiritual formation, I think all of us – I think atheists are spiritually formed. So how are we formed as people? How are we formed about the way we think of God and of our neighbor? Those were the questions that drove this book.
Cherie Harder: The challenge of thinking about spiritual information and the role that liturgy plays is, [for] so many of our repetitive actions, we repeat them so much and so unconsciously that we’re likely not even aware of it – much like a fish doesn’t know it’s wet. How do we think about becoming aware of the liturgies that form us that we so regularly participate in as to hardly notice them anymore?
Tish Harrison Warren: Yes. That’s such a good question. Before Covid, I would go around the country, and people would often ask me to speak on my book. Sometimes I would do workshops where we would do what was called a “liturgy audit.” I would ask people questions – they would fill out a form, and it would say things like, “What do you do with the first two hours of your day? What do you do with the last two hours of your day? What are the things you notice that you repetitively go to when you feel afraid or lonely or anxious? What are the things you repetitively go to when you want to celebrate?” It’s supposed to help people think about their time. So we do the liturgy audit, and then we do a debrief of it. The most common thing people said is, “I realize I have no idea how I spend my time. I don’t know what I do in my work day. I know I am going to work every day, but when I have to stop and think about it, so much of this is a blur. It blows by me.” So a lot of this is sort of stopping and noticing our own lives. I have seen, as people enter this, there’s a progression of, “I don’t know how I use my time,” and then people start to pay attention to it, and they get sort of depressed, because they say, “I spend so much of my time compulsively checking email or compulsively going to Twitter or compulsively organizing my cabinets.” That’s not my personal struggle, but for some people, that is. Then the other thing people say they get depressed about is, “So much of my time is quotidian. It’s so daily. I spend so much time, when I think about it, doing the dishes. I spend so much time, when I think about it, sitting in traffic. (This is before Covid.) I spend so much time sleeping, or having to work out, or having to take care of my mother who is ailing.” This goes for one hundred percent of the human population: much of our life is taken up with small and quotidian things. And then, hopefully, [people] go to a third step of finding God in those things that take up their life. And there’s some encouragement there. But I have noticed there’s a sort of “I have no idea what’s happening in my life,” then moving to “I’m not sure I like what’s happening in my life,” and then “Where’s the presence of God in the midst of this?”
Cherie Harder: You talk a lot in your book about the formational power of repetition and structural habits and priorities in one’s life, and at one point you even talk about it as being an imprint on one’s soul. There is a dark side to that as well, in that there are all too many people who have grown up where that imprint has been abusive or pathological in some ways. The daily habits, priorities, assumptions of their life were at best dysfunctional, often outright abusive. Some of those folks may be keenly aware of the imprint on their life, desperately wanting to throw it off, and not sure how. What do you say to those who recognize – not always, perhaps not fully, but at least partially – the imprint, but really struggle to hammer it out?
Tish Harrison Warren: That’s a big question, and it’s going to be hard for me not to tell you “that’s a good question” after everything you say, because you’re asking great questions. I want to say a few things about this. I don’t want anyone to understand the book as, there is this ideal liturgy of the ordinary that is the “right way to live,” and everyone needs to get on board with that. What I’m saying is that all of us in our daily life will struggle with sin. We will struggle with doubt. We will struggle with grief and anxiety and fear and things like sloth and laziness and pride and greed – all kinds of things. Some of them, things like grief or anger, are not sinful, and some of them are out of our fallenness. Since this book has come out, people have come over to my house that I’ve met since the book, and [they have] been sad to find that it’s not this harmonious monastery here. My children don’t come in every hour and say, “Mother, it’s our liturgy time,” to do the Book of Common Prayer. I hope there’s an earthiness to the book – it’s not a how-to of how to be the liturgically perfect Christian. The point is that we are all formed by a lot of forces in the world. Growing up is one. Our culture is one. There’s certainly cultural liturgies and habits that we imbibe. Liturgies from our families of origin and the families we form. Some of them are good things that form us to be more whole and more loving and able to give and receive love. And some of them deform us. They malform us. That goes for family liturgies; that also goes for cultural liturgies. All of this is a process, and it’s a process of repenting, and it’s a process of growing more whole. When I say repenting there, I don’t just mean “stop sinning,” although that can be part of it. John Mark Comer defines repentance as “rethinking reality from the ground up.” I like that definition – I’m saying this is a way to form ourselves so that we are, with our bodies, with our time, rethinking reality from the ground up. We are living into the story of Jesus instead of the false stories that we grew up with: stories that we are not beloved, stories that our life doesn’t matter, stories that we’re mostly left here on our own to try to eke out an existence for ourselves. Through our daily practices, we are living and leaning into repentance, into rethinking reality around the person of Jesus. For all of us, that is a process – a broken process. This book, and I think the entire Christian life, is an invitation into transformation and grace. But all of that is rooted in God. So I start the book talking about baptism. Before Jesus did anything, before he healed people, before he did anything impressive, at his baptism he was declared beloved. “This is my beloved Son.” As we are baptized, as Jesus, that is spoken over us: we are beloved. That is the most crucial and constant – almost as a physical constant as I talk about it in my second book – the most crucial and constant fact of our lives: that we are beloved in God. All of our practices aren’t to try to make ourselves beloved. They are not to try to work ourselves up so that God might tolerate us. They are the response to the invitation to find ourselves as the beloved, to live more freely as the beloved. So I think for all of us, whether you’re from a really broken home and background, or your parents were just regular sinners, all of us are having to live our lives learning to walk more deeply, day by day, into the belovedness we have in Jesus. So I think there’s an invitation in this. I think that being imprinted is really real, and some of us are imprinted more deeply than others. So I don’t think we’re gonna “make it.” I think there will be hurt and ways that we’re malformed or imprinted badly that we may carry with us the rest of our lives. But the point isn’t to ascend a spiritual ladder. The point is to become more and more human, more and more whole. I think that we can all walk into that – wherever wherever we find ourselves, we can walk into that.
Cherie Harder: You mentioned just a few minutes ago “cultural liturgies.” And of course, one of the implications of your book is that we are not only formed as a person by what we repetitively do, but also as a people by what we repetitively do. I wanted to ask your thoughts on how you see Christians in America being formed, and whether there are cultural liturgies that are forming us in ways that concern you.
Tish Harrison Warren: That’s also a great question. Yes, there are cultural liturgies that concern me. In terms of how we’re being formed as Christians in America and maybe in the West in general, that could be a really, really long answer. I could write a book on that, and many people have. But I will say that I think it is not currently the liturgies of the church that are most forming us. In fact, I think the liturgies of the culture in many ways form the church instead of vice versa. It’s difficult for the church to be the church if the church is primarily formed by different liturgies and different stories than the story of Jesus. Some of the things that the church is formed by – I’ve had multiple letters, and this has been really confirmed since the book has come out from pastors who say, I preach a sermon. We show up, we’re together for two hours on Sunday. But then my people go. They leave and they spend hours a day on talk radio, which is really a liturgy to live around. Or hours a day on Fox News, or hours a day on Twitter, which tends to sort of lean the other way, a little more left than right. That’s according to the Atlantic – that your average Twitter user is a progressive white female. These are things that are forming our view of the world and of other people, of politics, of our enemies, of our friends, that we participate in every day and that form us deeply. But we don’t often think about how deeply they are forming us. When people get on Twitter, they don’t think, “I’m going to go let myself be formed by this,” or “I’m going to go take part in this liturgy,” or “I’m going to the sacred space now.” This is absolutely channeling Michael Wear – I don’t know if Michael’s listening, this is for you, Michael – but our politics forms us deeply, and it malforms us in a lot of ways. He talks about how politics has become in some ways spiritually harmful. I think that is true. I think capitalism forms us for better or worse. I’m not advocating that we go to a different system. But I think out of capitalism can come consumerism, which is separate from capitalism. The notion that we are what we buy, that that’s going to fulfill us, and the basic idea of autonomy – that we are our own, we make decisions and we live our life as individuals for our own good and for our own self – is so deeply shaping that it’s really difficult for Westerners to even get out of that mindset. Myself included, certainly. We see this in the church all the time. During Epiphany, our church and other churches have used the Kenyan liturgy. It’s indigenous, written by Kenyans for Kenya. It’s amazing how much more communal the language is. I had some folks in my church complain – they said it sounds socialist. And I said, “It’s not socialist! It’s just not white American individualism.” I think we’re so shaped by American individualism, and if you are white, white American individualism, that I think it’s easy for us to get that all mixed up with Christianity and not be able to pull them apart.
So politics, consumerism, nationalism, and the way that shapes us…I could go on and on. I could have a long list of the kinds of social liturgies that shape us. But in general, I think we need to be asking God to purify the church in America. By “purify the church,” I mean allow us to be shaped by the story of Scripture and the story of our own tradition, the long history of faithfulness throughout the church, more than our own particular and small American moment – our place of America and this particular moment in history. Stanley Hauerwas talks a lot about [how] the church’s chief call is to be the church – not to be a lapdog or chaplain for American culture or Western culture, but to be wildly, shockingly who we are. But in order to do that, we’re going to have to parse out a lot of the things that have formed us since the inception of America. We have kind of made an admixture of Christianity and American culture that’s inappropriate, that’s not true to the Scripture and to the tradition.
Cherie Harder: Tish, there’s so much more I could ask you, but there’s also a couple of dozen viewer questions that have been piling up, so we will turn to those. For all of our viewers, as Alyssa mentioned, you can not only ask a question, you can like a question. The questions with more likes are more likely to be asked to our guest today. We’re going to start off with a question from Bill Haley, who writes, “Tish, that was beautiful. Thank you so much. You mentioned […] that question, how are we formed? What do you think are the most powerful ways that we can be positively formed, and what is important for us to make space for?”
Tish Harrison Warren: That’s a great question. I feel like my answers to this are so basic that it’s always hard for me to answer. The most powerful things that can form us, [for] all people, are the way we use our time, the way we use our money, the way we use our bodies, and the way we spend our worship – the things that we look to to save us. For Christians, the things that most shape us are church, going to church and participating in church; practices of prayer; and practices of being formed by the story of Scripture, so entering into Scripture – and I think we need varied practices for that. So that’s through study; it’s also through meditation; it’s also through memorization; it’s also through reading books about the Scriptures and hearing the Scriptures proclaimed. So you’re asking me what forms us, and I’m saying, “Go to church, read your Bible, pray,” which your second-grade Sunday school teacher could have said. But honestly, it’s what Augustine would say too. I mean, this is just Christianity. This is what we do. We go to church, we take the sacraments, we read the Scriptures, we pray. Out of that, of course, we have to seek to obey the Scriptures. That would draw us into places of risk, into seeking justice, into loving the poor, and figuring out economic systems that are just and right for people. And giving. I think more and more, the way that we spend money is kind of the cutting edge of risky discipleship, particularly for my generation maybe. It’s very easy to hashtag issues of justice on Twitter, but giving sacrificially is hard. It’s just hard. So I’m basically telling you what your grandmother or Sunday school teacher would tell you, but I do think the things that form us are community, gathered liturgies, church – particularly the sacraments, and Word and prayer. Those are things that form us. If you’re looking for more, I think particularly in America and the West right now, the practice of silence needs to be recovered in very radical ways. We have lost that. I actually wrote for the Trinity Forum on Annie Dillard. I talk about the role of attention in the Christian life. I do think that a very chief call of discipleship right now is learning to attend to the things of God in what has been called an attention economy. Right now, the people that make the most money in our economy are the people that can get your attention. That’s why social media is huge. That’s why Google is huge. It’s because they are able to capture people’s attention. So I think the practice of silence, the practice of solitude, the practice of attending to the things of God – it’s very simple, but I think it’s a radical act at this moment in history.
Cherie Harder: One of our most popular questions ever is from Annamarie Sonatian, who asked, “Where can we find a template for the liturgy audit?”
Tish Harrison Warren: Well, I made it. Some of the questions I pulled from James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom,” but then I added my own questions. Maybe I could send it to Trinity Forum and you guys could put it up.
Cherie Harder: We will send it out along with the recommended resources, which will come in about a day or two to everybody who’s watching.
Tish Harrison Warren: Yeah, I just made it. Maybe I should charge for it. I’m just kidding.
Cherie Harder: Our next question is from an anonymous attendee: “Has Dallas Willard’s classic book on spiritual formation, ‘Renovation of the Heart,’ shaped any of your thinking about how humans can change to be like Christ? Are there other books you’d recommend?”
Tish Harrison Warren: That’s a great question. I quote Dallas Willard in the second chapter, maybe the first, of my book. So he has impacted me some. The thing that informed this book the most was James K.A. Smith’s work around liturgy and habits specifically. My next book focuses a lot on prayer, and that was influenced by Richard Foster’s work on prayer. So I’m around that world a little bit. But this book in particular came more out of James K.A. Smith’s work and Dorothy Bass’s work on practices. There’s a whole world of Christian practices and the notion of lived theology – UVA has a center for lived theology – and there’s a bunch of folks writing about the Christian life, not as an intellectual history but as a practical history, as a history of practices and rituals, including somewhat church historians like Robert Wilken, and that’s actually influenced me a little more. I mean, I’ve worked with Renovare, which was started by Richard Foster. James Brian Smith is a friend of mine – he has something called The Apprentice Institute that focuses on Willard and Foster and his own work, and spiritual formation in general. So I’m sort of in both of those worlds, thinking about liturgy and practice and also spiritual disciplines. So, yes, I would say Dallas Willard has impacted me. He wasn’t at the forefront of my mind in this particular book, but he has impacted me in general.
Cherie Harder: Our next question comes from an anonymous attendee who asked, “How can I engage with angry, frightened Christians who only practice what feeds their fears and angers?”
Tish Harrison Warren: That is such a good question. I have a mentor from several years ago who would say, “The Internet has a subtitle and the subtitle is, ‘What Our Itching Ears Long to Hear.'” When we go to the Internet, it tends to be that we go to hear what we want to hear. So if people are afraid and really living out of that fear, they go to places that are going to stoke that. So I think more and more, “what does it mean to be a peacemaker in this moment?” is a really hard, complicated, complex question. So, how to engage with folks that are angry and fearful? I don’t have an answer. I wish I had five steps to engage angry and fearful Christians, because it would be helpful. I think there is a tendency in our culture right now to divide the world into clear categories of the good guys and the bad guys. The people on the right side of history and the wrong side of history. That liberals that are dragging America to hell and the conservatives that are the saviors, or the conservatives that are angry and bigoted and the liberals that are going to save us all. I think we have to really, really resist that. To say “I keep running into these Christians that are fearful and angry” is a very real thing. But I think it’s easy to say, “Those guys are fearful and angry and we are the good guys.” I think even identifying the ways that we are fearful and angry and that we participate in that is a helpful thing. We just have to do everything we can to resist the easy categories of good guys and bad guys. Solzhenitsyn said that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. I think we start there, in a place of humility and meekness, of “where is good and evil in my own heart?” That said, I don’t want that to slide into relativism – because we struggle with anxiety and fear, therefore we can’t speak out against injustice or racism or fear or anger. My personal counselor would always say, “Behind anger is always fear or sadness.” So if someone is deeply angry or deeply fearful, I think it helps to begin to be curious about what has happened that they are so deeply angry and fearful. There’s whole communities that are deeply angry and fearful. I think it’s helpful to say, why? And then underneath that fear and sadness, there’s always a love. There’s something that they love that they feel is threatened or is being taken away from them. And so what is that? And is that something that is always bad, or is that something that we could affirm the value in? So some of it is curiosity, and a lot of it is prayer. I keep coming back to prayer. But I do think the battle in the end of the day is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. So I think the fact that as a culture we have a lot of fear and anger right now is not just [because of] lots and lots of individuals with fear and anger (although that’s part of it), but that there are powers and principalities at work here. I mean that spiritually, but I also mean there’s systems – there are much larger systems of culture, of politics, of global economy, that bring up fear and anger in people. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So curiosity and prayer and meekness. And then something I’ve learned from my husband and also just through being in ministry is that we have to get a lot more comfortable with conflict as adults. Healthy conflict – being the adults in the room and being OK with people disagreeing with us and being mad at us. To learn, in the midst of that, to honor them. Part of that is engaging the best in there. Go for the very best parts of their argument. It’s easy these days on Twitter and other places to mock and to denigrate people. But to go for the best part of someone’s argument – the person I’ve seen do this best is Tim Keller. Years ago, I was at a Veritas Forum and Tim Keller was engaging an atheist guy. They asked a question about the existence of God, and the atheist kind of stumbled in his answer and didn’t [give] such a great answer. Then Keller turned and said, “Is this kind of what you were trying to say?” and then said it so much better that the guy said, “Yes, that’s what I was trying to say.” So Keller gave the atheist the best argument he could have, and then he argued with that and presented the truth of Jesus. It was such a gracious moment. Instead of pouncing on this guy’s failure, he helped him and he honored his dignity with that. But then he also stated the truth – what I think is the truth and what the gospel proclaims. So he stated the truth, but also honored this guy’s dignity. I think we have to figure out how to do that well.
Cherie Harder: We have so many questions remaining, I’m actually going to combine two and ask them together. An anonymous attendee asked, “What makes a habit liturgical?” And then Tim Koch asked, “What liturgies has Covid interrupted or suspended that are particularly detrimental to our life of faith?”
Tish Harrison Warren: Those are good questions. So what makes a habit liturgical? The easiest answer is, read the book, because I go into that a little bit more. But I think it’s habits that are connected to deeper questions of meaning and truth. To some extent, I really think that could be any habit. I have a chapter in the book on brushing our teeth – nobody would think that seems liturgical. But it enters into the notion of the way that we care for our body. It really changes the way we see ourselves in God and eternity and what our body is about. So I think very small habits are liturgical in the sense that they are connected to very deep meaning. And the other question about Covid – it’s been so interesting how many people have come back to my book during this time of quarantine, because the book obviously wasn’t written with a global pandemic in mind. But I think even though there are these vast cultural forces raging – like what we’ve been talking about, cultural liturgies and political rancor and global suffering – a lot of our lives have shrunk to the size of our home because of quarantine. Things like caring for our bodies, the liturgies we have of our morning, our work, our time. I have something on being stuck in traffic, which obviously doesn’t relate, but having to wait is what a lot of that chapter’s about which we’re doing a lot of these days. I think that our daily habits have become so forefront because all of our normal rituals have been thrown up in the air. You said a lot of us don’t even know how we spend our days. And I think that’s true. But this time of quarantine in some ways has been a big reset. It’s been a big time to rethink those things. A group of friends and I have been praying and talking about this being a time [where] we’ve sort of had to lay everything down in terms of our normal routine. And as we’re moving – our county just moved from red to yellow – we can be very intentional about what we pick back up again, the things that we do. I think there was a frantic-ness to our life before, a busyness, that this allows us to rethink.
The biggest disrupter, I would say, is actual gathering of the church. The church is just not meant to be online. We need to be, in order to love our neighbor now. But it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve said this several places, but this feels wrong because it is wrong. We are dealing with the Fall. We were not meant to live in a world where there were global pandemics and mass suffering. We’re participating in things not being as they are meant to be. So I particularly miss the gathering. We do morning prayer and we do sermons through the live stream, which no one enjoys, but that’s what we’re doing. Right now, we’re not taking the Eucharist (or the Communion, or Lord’s Supper, whatever you want to name that). That has been very sad for me. I have a seven-month-old we were going to baptize at the end of this month that we will not baptize because we aren’t having gathered worship. The book makes much of gathered worship. I think gathered worship is like cross training. It’s where you learn the practices that you take into your daily life. It’s kind of the basketball practice that sends you out into the game. It’s where you pick these things up that you’re going to bring out into the world. So I think I have deeply missed gathered worship. I think that’s part of our lament right now: we can’t experience that.
Cherie Harder: We’re going to try to fit in one more viewer question. This comes from Warren Lattimore, who says, “I’ve been using your and Kathleen Norris’s texts as conversation partners for my Easter sermon series on finding God in the quotidian as people are caught up in menial activities. What would you say are the best practices that could help re-form people from home into less anxious, more hopeful people during this time?”
Tish Harrison Warren: What a great question. First of all, I’m glad you brought up Norris, because when we were talking about influences in this, she is huge. I start the book with three quotes, and I chose those quotes really intentionally. One of them is from Norris because I wanted to say from the beginning that my book is in relationship with “The Quotidian Mysteries,” because that was very formative for me. So I wanted to acknowledge her right up front. In terms of habits that people can take up right now to find hope – I will say that praying the Psalms is very, very helpful right now. The fact is, we are feeling a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, a lot of lament, a lot of questions of why this is happening. John Calvin said the Psalms are like a mirror: you can see every single human emotion there. So praying through the Psalms would be a great habit to pick up. Silence, also. With the liturgy audit, the thing that I got the most for the question, “Where do you go when you feel anxious, afraid, or lonely?” was screens. Second was work. But both were distractions – we don’t want to feel these things, so we’re going to go distract ourselves with something else. And I think one of the things we really have to do is sit in the bad feelings, and Psalms helps us do that, because the most common type of Psalm is lament. The tendency when we’re anxious is to go read, read, read about Covid, read, read, read everyone’s responses, read, read, read the things that people have said that we think are unwise and argue with them. It’s like being thirsty and drinking saltwater. It just adds to that anxiety. I don’t mean don’t be informed. Be informed, and have the places you go for your news. I have certain places I go to get news, and then I try not to look at it anywhere else, because we need to intentionally go for silence right now. And I know that’s hard if people are in the home with kids or roommates, and you’re like, “Where am I going to go for silence?” But I think particularly right now, we need to intentionally shut off the news and center ourselves on the ultimate news, which is that “In this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world,” says Jesus. So I would say the Psalms, practices of silence, and fasting from news and the Internet. And prayer and rest! In some ways, quarantine has given us a time to slow down, where we really can’t go out every night. So use this time to rest. Lastly, I would say, because we’re in such a disembodied time, a lot of our work is through Zoom or e-mail, [and we should be] getting back in our bodies in some intentional way. That’s really hard during quarantine, but if we can go on walks, go out in public parks – we have hiked a lot and that’s been helpful. So those are some practices. But again, it’s go to church, read your Bible, pray every day. But that’s one of the points that I’ve made in my ministry, in my book: that there is not a secret bonus round of the Christian life that we’re keeping from you. The things that we have been given, the Scriptures, the prayers of the church, the practices of the church, these have sustained Christians over thousands of years over many plagues and war and conflicts and kingdoms rising and falling. The things that have always sustained the church through struggle and tragedy are the things that will sustain the church now through struggle and tragedy.
I’m going to read a quote from Michael Ramsey, who’s a former archbishop of Canterbury. This quote was not in the book, but I’m choosing it because I think in the vastness of Covid and the global suffering, this is a helpful word for us about the ordinary in the gospel. He says, “The glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter and that the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child, are of infinite worth to God. Let that be your inspiration. Consider our Lord himself amidst a vast world, with its vast empires and vast events and tragedies. Our Lord devoted himself to a small country, to small things, and to individual men and women, often giving hours of time to the very few or to the one man or woman. In a country where there were movements and causes which excited the allegiances of many – the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Essenes, and others – our Lord gives many hours to one woman of Samaria, one Nicodemus, one Martha, one Mary, one Lazarus, one Simon Peter, for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.” Very few people right now know that the Lord, in a time where there was just as much turmoil as we are experiencing right now, spent many, many hours with one Martha and one Mary and one Simon Peter, because the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.
Cherie Harder: Thank you, Tish, for joining us.
Tish Harrison Warren: Thank you for having me.
Cherie Harder: Thank you to all of our friends at Coracle who partnered with us on this Online Conversation, and thank you to each of you for your time and attention. Have a great weekend.