What do you call it when an entire sanctuary full of Episcopalians add an unwritten letter to the end of a word in the liturgy? Honestly - I don't know what to call it! I finally settled on "typo" because the concept seemed to agree with itself. At any rate, today's reflection begins with one such moment.
As a church musician I used to spend a great deal of time going through responsive readings and hymn texts, searching for meaning, connectedness, and Biblical truth. I found myself often turning words over and over in my mind, thinking about what the liturgy might be like if I changed one or two letters or reversed a bit of the order . . . . or even flipped something completely inside out. My current pastor has said that "liturgy is a form of play." - I tend to agree with her. It is playful! Sometimes we realize we're playing as we plan liturgy or move through it in the midst of a congregation. Sometimes we don't realize it and find ourselves surprised by the joy of an unplanned connection - synchronicity . . . blessing.
Our communion liturgy today at St. Francis Episcopal Church included the following:
Do you see the last two words? "All Matter." Almost the entire congregation this evening read the passage and concluded it by saying, "All Matters." Adding an "s" to the end of the word "matter" changes the sentence completely. We go from talking about God's tangible touch in all created matter to talking about God's understood spiritual presence in all human matters, which are not necessarily tangible. Matters, situations, are made up of tangible and intangible elements, all of which beg for God's grace and peace.
Our collective typo gave us away this evening. We came to the communion table not only longing for God's presence in the flesh and blood tangibility of our human lives, but also longing for God's presence in the midst of the matters that concern us. Have you ever heard a friend say, "And to make matters worse . . ." about something that troubles them? Often it comes with a story at the beginning of a new week - the trouble making its way before us, defying us to be centered, cutting us off from reflective peace.
"So that we may know your touch in all bread, all matters."
The writer of this liturgy intended to say exactly what's written there: matter. But this evening our spirits, gathered in one place for prayer and petition, said something else.
Mistakes can be beautiful, can't they?
I stand at the edge of a normal work week, but there are other parts of my life and my family's life that aren't normal and can't be normal. There are unknowns lurking in dark corners of our hearts, begging for attention. We can't work out the timing and we can't say how we'll react when one eventuality leads to another. All of this is part of the human condition. Everything I've just said about my life is true about your life as well, whoever you are.
God has come to us in bread, in body, and in spirit. God can live in matter and God can live in matters. God can be present in things seen and in things unseen. We can ask God to be present for us in things seen and things unseen . . . in things felt by hands and also things felt emotionally. All of this is part of the great mystery of God's own unity with God's self and with the created world around us. We don't ever have to be cut off from the felt presence of God. Not in any way . . . not in anything or any thing. We can ask God to meet us, and God will.
I think if you went to the writer of this communion liturgy and said, "This evening nine out of ten people said the wrong word at the end of paragraph 34b." the writer would smile and understand. Sometimes our mistakes get right to the point. We came to God's open table with a prayer of petition, and the prayer made itself known in the form of a mistake . . . and the mistake was the answer.
God makes known the path of life because God is the path of life and God is in the midst of the path of life. God, who has been described as "a very present help in times of trouble," is with us in every way we can think to ask about. God will "neither leave us nor forsake us" in the middle of our flesh and blood lives on earth. God, who has lived these mundane, tangible details in the person of Jesus, will be present in them and around them and through them forever and ever. And from God's human life came God's life as the helper, the paraclete, the Holy Spirit.
So . . . did we rewrite a bit of the liturgy this evening? We seem to have done so.
Was it ok that we rewrote a bit of the liturgy? I believe it is.
May your week be full of mindfulness so that mistakes are turned into blessings - manna from heaven, an unexpected gift.