This week marks the Baptism of Our Lord, offering a liturgical marking and a Gospel reading that should make writing a service reflection easy as pie. There are so many ideas and symbols and meanings inherent in baptism. Any writer worth her salt could bang out an essay on the new year, baptism, new life, redemption…and so on.
But a funny thing happened on the way to getting my thoughts down: God drew my attention to something else. Was this because He knew the baptismal theme would be too easy for me? Or because I needed to focus on something else? I can’t pretend to know God’s ways, so I’ll cease speculating and get to it.
The phrase that made me sit up straighter in my pew this week came from Psalm 29, verse 2:
Give unto THE LORD the glory due his name
O worship THE LORD in the beauty of holiness
“The beauty of holiness”—this is how we are to worship, the psalmist tells us.
I have heard that psalm on Lectionary B Sundays my entire life (well, at least the Lectionary B Sundays that I’ve been in church; I must be honest, here), yet this is the first time I’ve really heard it. The words themselves are lovely: “The beauty of holiness.”
What do they mean? My mind started to churn, and I had to pull myself back to the service, to the rest of the psalm, and to the Second Lesson, just as I pull myself back to the center each day when I meditate. Otherwise, I might have wandered down a path of association and connection that is wonderful when I’m working, but not as useful when I’m trying to remain present for a church service. I gently reoriented my thoughts to the altar cross several more times during yesterday’s Eucharist, actively listening to Father Tim’s sermon about how Mark’s spare, elegant account of Christ’s baptism speaks to our own baptisms—and yet has nothing whatsoever to do with christening gowns.
It was at some point during the Prayers of the People (pay attention, I told myself, pay attention!) that I realized “the beauty of holiness” means that moment for us, that infinity for God, when we are completely consecrated to Him. It is what we, imperfect humans, strive for each time we pray, or gather together, or study a devotion.
Also, as my writer self butts in again for a moment, the phrase in its totality is significant. We’re not to worship the Lord “in beauty” or “in holiness,” but in “the beauty of holiness.” This is neither about aesthetics, nor piety. It’s about being fully immersed in and present to the mystery of God’s power and love.
And that’s what happens to me, every time I attend church, when we make the transition from the Offertory to the Eucharist. It’s as if, for me, the first half of the service is Left Brained and the second half Right Brained. For every lectionary rotation in which I can’t get out of my own head, there is a communion in which I leave my self behind and become part of something much, much greater. During the Eucharistic prayer and meal, I am immersed in the beauty of holiness.
If I were to allow my Left Brain to set a goal for worship, it would be that I learn how to do so in the beauty of holiness through every moment of every service I attend. However, I have an inkling that in tugging my attention to that verse in the psalm yesterday, God was reminding me that I don’t have to set any goal on my own. He is with me in every word, in every sit/stand/kneel moment. I just need to keep gently turning my attention back to Him.
- How is God holy?
- How are you holy?
- What does the beauty in holiness mean to you?