Instead of acting or even the hard work of bringing ones own life into his or her role, leading liturgy is more like setting the table for friends. On the other hand, it is clear when clergy are acting as they move around the chancel as if it were a stage, and speak in a theater voice not their own. Worse yet are those who seem entirely too happy to be costumed in their liturgical robes or hats. That is acting.
But there is a different option: setting the table the same as if company was coming. Preparing the worship space with prayers and music and motion is the same as if you were fluffing pillows, dusting and vacuuming the living room, and rearranging things as you would to make your house ready for family, friends, or even a romantic interest. It is authentic even though you are making the space special. When company is coming for dinner we set the mood with lighting, music, candles, colorful linens and special food and drink. It is what we do when we are hoping to offer a particular kind of experience that conveys both who we are and how we feel toward those joining us.
It is not acting. It is being thoughtful and intentional about the kind of things that open us up and facilitate an encounter with the holy. Leading that kind of worship is something I know about, and running for the hills from the other kind of worship is something I do whenever I find myself around it.
The difference between those two kinds of worship is on my mind as I prepare to do public speaking and reading events associated with introducing and selling “The Steam Room Diaries” to the big wide world. I fear the experience because I don’t want to find myself in the midst of a public self-indulgence that negates the reason I have been writing in the first place. I fear it because the market place is not familiar territory for me and I mistrust it.
So next week, in Buffalo, New York, I am going to try to bring my sense of liturgy to the readings and public speaking events and conversations taking place to introduce my book to the world. I am not sure how that will go, but knowing what I do about worship at least helps me know what I don’t want to do.