How lovely is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yea, faints, for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Have you ever thought about the Divine Liturgy as a place to “breathe”? We’ve been talking about the importance of taking time to breathe, in order to relax, purge stress and stay focused, and the Divine Liturgy is a great place to do this. (Outside of parents who have small children)
Worship in our church is predictable. When our minds are racing and stressed out, they crave something that is known. Second, taking deep breaths helps us relax, and the Divine Liturgy is done at a pace that encourages and is conducive to taking deep breaths. When we go to the doctor and the doctor says take a deep breath in, and then let it out, and we do that several times, we establish a cadence of deep breathing and that relaxes us. The pace of the Divine Liturgy ideally should be that pace. The petitions and the hymns should be on that cadence. The people in the pews should be taking deep breaths in time to the petitions and responses. Imagine singing a slow “Lord have mercy” every 15 seconds, then breathing in during each petition, absorbing what is being said, and then offering another “Lord, have mercy.” Imagine how relaxing and renewing this could be.
The Divine Liturgy is a guided tour of the world—starting on a macro level and working down to a micro one. We begin by praying for peace, for our parish, for our country, for our world, for good weather, for those who are traveling, those who are sick and those who are in need. When we are anxious and stressed, the focus turns quickly inward, and we actually lose empathy for other people. Lack of empathy puts even more stress and anxiety into our world. Praying for peace in the world takes the focus off of our own selves and puts it our towards others.
Empathy means to put ourselves into the shoes of another person. The petitions at the beginning, called the Great Litany, are a reminder of all the struggles in the world to which we should be empathetic, which means not only feeling bad about them, but doing something about them. If we are praying for peace in the world, it is a reminder that we should be doing something to promote peace in the world.
The petitions after the Great Entrance, in my opinion, have a more personal meaning. These petitions are where we think of our personal struggles—asking for a perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless day—that’s the ideal and even though I’ve never had even one of those days, this is the goal to shoot for. If I feel alone, I should remember that an angel of the Lord walks next to me at all times, sometimes invisible, and sometimes actually in the form of a friend. It is a reminder that I can play that role for others. For forgiveness of sins—we all sin, all the time. Thus, we all need forgiveness, all the time. Not only from God, but from one another. If the Lord were to mark our iniquities, forget it. And when we keep score with one another, forget it too. For all that is good and beneficial to our souls and for peace in the world—can you imagine if you made every decision according to these metrics. To live out the remainder of our lives in peace and repentance, again an ideal to remember in the midst of stress and anxiety. And for a Christian end to our lives, peaceful without shame and suffering and a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, the most important petition of all.
When we sing “grant this O Lord,” we are offering it not only for ourselves, but for those around us. We are showing empathy and compassion to people who are struggling with the same things we are struggling with, with people who are hoping and dreaming about the same things we are hoping and dreaming of. And when we all check our “cool cards” and start being honest, that’s where anxiety and stress is reduced because empathy leads to action which leads to love which is what helps us to endure all things, in the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians. The Divine Liturgy doesn’t require us to stand up and proclaim our shortcomings. But it does address the shortcomings we all have.
The altar table is the throne of Christ. It is the place where Christ sits at all times, in the Eucharist that always resides on the altar table in the tabernacle, and in the Eucharist, we offer at each Divine Liturgy. We know that when we die, we will all one day stand before the awesome throne of Christ. This prospect strikes fear in many people who are about to die. And perhaps that is because they didn’t spend enough time in front of the throne of Christ in this life, or they weren’t cheerful when they were doing so. If one loves to stand before the throne of Christ in this life, it stands to reason that he or she will be looking forward to doing it when this life is over. Thankfully our church is centered around the throne of Christ, everything we do emanates from the altar.
Back to the idea of breathing in worship—worship should slow us down enough to relax, it should allow us some time to breathe, it should build empathy in us, and it should build confidence before the throne of Christ where we will eventually all stand. And that’s before we get to the joy it should build in us of receiving Christ. Even if we struggle to understand the meaning of the service, or if it’s done partly in a language we don’t understand, there is no denying that the pace of worship in any language is an opportunity to breathe and relax.
Lord, thank You for the opportunity to worship You. Thank You for the opportunity to receive You in the Eucharist. Please help me to focus during worship, not only on what is being said but to focus on breathing, relaxing, building empathy, and building my own confidence. Help me to reflect on each petition, whether it be for the good of someone else, or for my own good. Help me to internalize what I hear, to prayerfully respond asking or Your mercies, and to then take what I’ve prayed and apply it to life after worship has ended. May I also take away the spirit of calmness that comes over us in worship into my life outside of worship. Amen.
Make regular worship a part of your life, for many reasons, including that it is a chance to breathe.