Here is a bit of truth about me which you may not know. When I was in graduate school, I became aware of the need to get some testing done to see why I hadn’t yet outgrown my uncanny ability to be unintentionally, unexpectedly, transported out of direct conversations with people into different worlds and streams of thought. Then just as magically, I am transported back and suddenly grappling to find an answer to what is likely a normal question from the person I’m speaking with. “I’m so sorry, could you please repeat the last five minutes of this conversation?”
So, at the not-so-adolescent age of 24, I was diagnosed with Adult ADD. My mentor at the time said “Duh.” Nice.
Now, even as a therapist, I struggle with how to explain this to the few people I’ve told. The best I’ve come up with hit me as I was watching the news the other day. On any given news channel, we’ve decided that what the news anchor is saying is not sufficient – we need to have a little scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen giving us even more news. (More on this in an upcoming post called How America is Making Me Even More ADD). So this news screen is a somewhat close analogy to how things look in my brain.
Except there’s not just one scrolling bar across the bottom. In my mind, there are scrolling bars everywhere. And it’s not neat and orderly either. Sure, some are straight lines across and some only slightly misbehave by going vertically or horizontally, but others rebelliously do loop-de-loops across the screen in every which way. Did I mention that the news anchor is still speaking and I’m supposed to be able to know what’s being said??? Normally, I can do this – I’ve become quite good at working in this brain structure and it even works to my advantage in many ways. In fact, I love how my brain works. The problem for me occurs when the news streams get out of control and the person speaking on the screen is so completely covered that they disappear altogether. Then I am lost.
So, from a spiritual perspective, having a brain that functions in this way has always made it quite difficult to put the scripture “be still, and know that I am God” into practice. I’ve always given a good effort, but the news streams always creep in. I’m persistent but I can’t deny it’s a bit maddening to have these distractions enter my mind as I pray.
After we began attending an Orthodox church, something began to change. Without realizing it was happening, a shift began as streams of Orthodoxy began to flow through my mind. You see, I have been participating in worship in a totally new (yet, ancient) way for the last year. The liturgy of the Orthodox Christian Church has slowly, repetitively, effectively imprinted itself on my soul. “Liturgy” is a word that can bring many things to mind. In years past when I used the word, it was so I could describe a “dead” church – one whose members yawned their way through the banal repetition and whose only fervent prayer was that they wouldn’t be last in line at the Sizzler. Pretty harsh, right? But, then again, when I tend to believe something, I do so emphatically. Imagine my surprise when my soul began craving something constant and unchanging in my own life. But my craving was for something different than anything I’d seen before.
Thankfully, mercifully, I did not encounter banal repetition but rather meaningful contemplation. See, I was used to stimulus. In fact, I was a bit of a stimulus junkie (I know I’m in good company in our society). But the constant rhythm and scriptural prayer of the liturgy calmed me, and my dependency on stimulus began to change. Kind of like learning to appreciate real food for the first time after an entire adolescence of eating Cheetos. So, the liturgy doesn’t really change week to week. And yet it doesn’t get old.
I’m going to be truthful here – we all know, no matter what church we’re in that anyone can check out or just go through the motions and miss the importance of a moment even as great significance seems to envelop the place. And the same is true of Orthodoxy. We can choose to be engaged and connected…or just passive. Some very wise women taught me recently that it’s much like marriage in this way. The fireworks, the honeymoons, and the special occasions are nice – but if that’s solely what defines an awesome marriage, you will feel deprived (assuming one or both of you have jobs and/or children and/or lives that include other people besides your spouse.) The out-of-the-ordinary special days are wonderful…but they’re not your “cement”. Daily, constant, reliable interactions build the substance of a marriage – and make those special days even better. Wait, wasn’t I talking about liturgy???
So here I am, just standing through the liturgy on Sundays, not even noticing how it begins to play through my mind during the week. As a dear friend once said, it’s amazing to see where the liturgy shows up in your life. Moments where you need it, prayerful words show up. These scriptures, prayers, and pleas are centering me. And THAT is a feat.
However, I have to wonder – is it just me? In so many ways, we are all products of our fast-paced, too-busy society. And often, so many of our churches reflect our culture in this way and can leave us feeling just as busy and as frazzled as anything else in life. But for me, the liturgy of the Orthodox Church has become such a place of stability and assurance for me.
But transcendent…and transformational.