IVP - Strangely Dim - Hurry Up and Genuflect

March 19, 2004

Hurry Up and Genuflect

by David A. Zimmerman

Over Christmas I visited my parents, which generally involves attending mass with them. As an adult I've most commonly attended nonliturgical churches, so an occasional return to the church of my youth makes for a nice, reflective hour for me.

Nevertheless, you'd be surprised how much can change in an ancient church over the course of a year. In this case, the year had brought ever-so-slight revisions to the liturgy. The most pronounced change came right in the middle of the Nicene Creed, which wouldn't be a problem if my sister and I hadn't been right in the middle of a lifelong, informal competition--I'll call it "The Creedal Invitational."

Chalk it up to intense individualism or chronic nonconformity or sibling one-upmanship, but for most of my childhood the congregational reciting of the Nicene Creed was an opportunity, for my sister and me, to prove that we could read the creed without the support of our parish. We paused at all the normal breath points, of course, but we were in a race to finish first, which meant that we were, generally, radically out of sync with everyone around us.

If you've taken part in group readings of any kind, you know that there's an unstated agreement in advance about when to pause, when to breathe, which words to emphasize, that sort of thing. You fall into a natural rhythm when you speak with other people; for my sister and me, that rhythm was merely a bit more caffeinated.

But then the priest interrupted our recitation--or, in my sister's case, the victory lap. "At this point in the creed we kneel to honor Christ's coming to earth." The priest knelt, and the congregation knelt with him. Then we picked up where everyone else had left off.

I admit I was a bit stymied by the interruption. I had to get my bearings and refer back to the monthly missalette to find my place. My mind was pulled in two directions: on the one hand, any chance of meditation for me was complicated by the mechanics of getting back with the congregation and operating the retractable kneeler; on the other hand, I was forced to revisit the Incarnation of the Christ, which no matter how you slice it is time well spent. So I guess the question is, what do I gain by following my own pace through creedal statements and other group readings, and what do I lose?

In this case, I lost the context for why we were kneeling--for those of us who had finished the creed prematurely, we might as well have all been looking for the priest's lost contact.

I lost the full intended experience of the reading--to soak in the realities that the creed proclaims.

I did, however, gain bragging rights over my sister in what may necessarily have been the last Creedal Invitational ever (at least in my telling of the story). You take what you can get, I suppose.


Check out my secret identity at www.ivpress.com.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at March 19, 2004 2:06 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

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