Monday, August 4, 2014

Liturgies in the Corners of the Day

Common parlance locates 'liturgy' within the practices of religion, and further locates those within the public practices of faith communities. In Catholicism, for instance, one finds the Liturgies of the the Word, of the Eucharist, the Hours, Matrimony and of other sacraments. In this post, I would like to talk about liturgies with a lower case 'l', a small "L". I will retain the public nature of these small liturgies, but not so public as to include great crowds, but perhaps with a smaller group. I retain the public nature of these little liturgies lest I miss the mark and fall into the abyss of private rituals, wholesome or less so, accidentally witnessed. But the ritualistic component of liturgy should not be missed either. But, here, too, I speak of a lower case 'r', a small "R".

I am also speaking of the sacred, of sacred space and sacred spaces, which provide the stage on which little liturgies sanctify the corners of daily life. As a specialist in hospice and palliative medicine I have come to understand that for many patients a sense of sacrality and ritual is a source of comfort and peace. The hospice wing itself is the sacred space sanctified by the humanity of patients and families, and by their suffering. Loss is the grammar of days on a hospice unit; but no less so are re-humanization, joy, narratives of living and dying, human touch and a respectful and reverent human voice. The solemnity of human death and dying pulsates in the corners of the hospice wing, in each patient's room, and in the hearts of all. The liturgy of the nursing assistant working with the patient to achieve personal care needs censes both space and time, like music filling a room. The whole team rounding on each patient to listen, to be present to this distinctively human moment, has a rhythm and time signature. There is a joyful wisdom in such work.

Joy is a bridge from the kind of solemnity one lives on the hospice unit, to the kind of solemnity one experiences in one's own living room. Friends, family and other visitors sacralize our homes. Good cheer even after a bad day or a bad week is a liturgical gesture of welcome and hospitality. A smile, an attentive ear, a laugh provide bridges of trust and foundations of relationships. Let the day's troubles be sufficient for the day, and the time of friends, family and others becomes a celebration of humanity right in our own backyards. Let the music out from wherever music comes from, and it will sanctify every corner and moment of these days. 

How could we begin to understand the liturgies of the capital "L" if the liturgies of the small 'l' go unnoticed or undone?

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