Sunday, December 10, 2023

"Pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable"

From ""The Power of Wise Custom" by Thomas Howard:
How should we worship?

It would seem presumptuous in the extreme for any mortal to take upon himself the authority to dictate to another how to worship. "Good heavens, man, are you serious? You are outgodding God. Don't tell me how to worship."

Who, indeed, will presume to legislate here? Surely God loves the spontaneous noises of his creatures: the buzzing of the wasp, the croaking of the frog, the scream of the eagle. Would this not include my own staggering efforts to find impromptu words with which to praise him? The form, or formlessness, of public worship is purely a matter of taste.

Not altogether. Those who urge this upon us forget two things: first, there is no such thing as spontaneity in any regularly recurring public occasion. Quakers, Brethren, and Pentecostals all would testify to this. Anyone from any of those "informal" purlieus will tell us that everyone present knows exactly what is going to happen, and when, and with what phraseology. There is an unmistakable beginning to the "service" and an unmistakable end; and what happens in between is what happened last Sunday, and the Sunday before that, ad infinitum. ....

Anyone who has lived with the burden of producing perennially impromptu prayers knows what an ordeal it is to keep those prayers "fresh". In fact, such a person knows that you cannot. You are reduced to piecing together a sequence of phrases familiar in your tradition. ....

C.S. Lewis felt rather strongly in this matter (though he considered himself a man who did not naturally like ritual; it embarrassed him). Speaking of ritual, he wrote, in Preface to Paradise Lost, "those who dislike ritual in general—ritual in any and every department of life—may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance."
Thomas Howard, "The Power of Wise Custom" (2000), collected in The Night is Far Spent, Ignatious Press, 2007.

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