The Cloister Walk
Kathleen Norris
February 8, 2021

Wondering aloud; how do we make our worship more inclusive and how we honor the outsider in our midst in worship?

Norris offers this reflection about the St. John’s monastery in Minnesota, “they [the monks at St. John’s] always invite a person from outside the monastic community to do the first reading at their Sunday Mass. This person also carries the great book of scriptures into the sanctuary and leads the liturgical procession.”

How do churches and individuals do this in our worship? It is one thing to intentionally include outsiders who have chosen to be part of the community to have a leadership role. It is another thing to foist that on a newcomer, while inclusive the newcomer may not be comfortable engaging in worship under those constraints. Yet, our worship communities should be places where people are encouraged to step outside themselves and be led by the Spirit in worship.

As I read about the process of worship and community life with the monastics and in my practice, I am struck by the almost methodical practice of worship and liturgy. It isn’t a stretch, especially in a community where the liturgy has been relatively unchanged for over 40 years, that liturgy can become rote and worship simple recitation. One question I have answered, and one that I ask of others, is do we treat worship with an appropriate level of awe? I think awe and stuffiness are different things. One can be filled with awe and reverent without being cold and nearly dead. Norris asked in her book, “How do we worship when we consider ‘that only Christ could have brought all of us together… doing such absurd but necessary things.’” If we can answer or respond to that reflection, we may be able to return to awe-inspired worship.

Norris also offers an image of the Liturgy of the Word as prayer. “As we participate in the Liturgy of the Word, we pray scripture with, and for, the people assembled, and the words go out to them, touching them in ways only God can imagine.” How might we turn our liturgy, especially the Liturgy of the Word into a prayer, and thus create a place where our worship is prayer?

Our life as people who live on the borderline of society (that is Christians), is one where we experience tension – the tension between the call of aloneness and silence and the need of community because it is in community that we see the obvious need to “pray without ceasing.” The contemporary Christian life is one where the measure of our faith is less from within and more from outside – the best judge of living a life centered on Christ may be one who watches us and how we act, not what we proclaim.

For reflection: Amma Syneletica (a 4th century monastic) offered this observation “… it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honor and at the same time bear heavenly fruit.” Is this the case in your experience? How can we order our lives to live at this intersection without losing our profession of faith?