The Beauty of Liturgy
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Douglas Kaine McKelvey shares how we can practice the presence of Christ through the use of liturgical prayers, not just in church, but in our homes.
The Beauty of Liturgy
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 27th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Are there some mundane moments ahead for you today?—moments where you could pause and ask the question, “How can I find God in this moment and worship Him here?” We’re going to explore that today with Doug McKelvey. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. One of our goals, as moms and dads—really, one of our goals, for all of us, as believers in Christ—is to—I’m thinking of the phrase from Brother Andrew: “…to practice the presence of Christ in our lives.” That’s an interesting phrase, “practice the presence,” because we know God is always with us; but our awareness of His presence with us is something that ebbs and flows. To the extent that we are aware of the presence of Christ and are remembering that, it helps us walk in the Spirit; don’t you think?
Ann: It’s acknowledging His presence.
Dave: I think to practice the presence, you have to stop; at least, I do. You can run, run, run; rush, rush, rush. Even with a digital device in your hand, it becomes something that just pulls your attention away. I think, for me, I have to pause; focus the mind, focus the heart and pause. And that’s where we are headed today.
Bob: That is.
Dave: It really is forcing us to do that.
Bob: We’re talking, this week, about how we practice the presence—as a family in our homes—how we make every moment holy. That’s the title of a book written by Doug McKelvey, who is joining us on FamilyLife Today, again, this week. Doug, welcome back.
Doug: Yes; thank you.
Bob: Did you write this for families or for individuals?—or did you have groups in mind or people in mind when you wrote the book, Every Moment Holy?
Doug: I hoped that, ultimately, it would be a book that could serve individuals, families, married couples, church groups; but my secret hope was always that it would really resonate as a tool for families to incorporate into the rhythm of their daily lives. I hoped that, regardless of the particular family circumstances, that there would be a number of the liturgies within the book that would just make sense to any given family as ones that they could incorporate, in a natural way, into the rhythm of their lives together.
The most exciting idea to me, as I wrote the book, was that, maybe, there would be kids who would begin to take ownership of some of these liturgies—that, when the electricity goes off, it’s the six-year-old, who says, “Hey, can we do the liturgy for the loss of electricity?” [Laughter]
Bob: Do you remember writing your first liturgy—
Doug: I do.
Bob: —for your family to go through?
Doug: I didn’t write the first one for my family to go through.
Bob: Okay; who did you write it for?
Doug: I wrote it for me.
Bob: What were the circumstances?
Doug: The circumstances were that I was working on a novel—or I was supposed to be working on a novel. [Laughter] I had gone through a two-week dry spell—just every day, sitting down in the morning to try to write, and just hitting a brick wall, and then distracting myself with checking messages on social media or whatever it might be.
Eventually, I just realized: “I need something to center myself every time I sit down. I need something that will reawaken my understanding or will restore my vision of who I am in relation to my Creator, of who I am in relation to the stewardship of my craft of whatever gift I’ve been given, and of my relationship to those that I hope to serve ultimately by what I’m writing.” I thought, “Okay; I’m going to write a prayer I could pray. And I’m going to do it in a liturgical form,”—
Doug: —just because there is an aesthetic beauty to that—but also, I thought, “Well, maybe, if it turns out good, maybe, other people would want to use it, too.” I wrote a liturgy for fiction writers, so that was the first one that I wrote.
I was about to do a session with Andrew Peterson at a conference. We were going to be speaking about storytelling. I sent that liturgy for fiction writers to him and said, “Hey, would this be a cool way to close the session?” He responded and said, “Yes; I love it; but man, I wish I had a liturgy for beekeeping, and a liturgy for…” and he named a couple other things like that.
That was the moment—it was just instantaneous—when I said: “Of course. This isn’t just about a liturgy for fiction writers as something to help me because I need it. There is a real opportunity here to serve the body of Christ and to create prayers that would articulate the heart cries, and the desires, and the needs over a vast spectrum of life experiences that we have—the mundane and the special ones.”
Dave: Yes; I was just reading one here, and you tell me what it is.
Bob: What the liturgy is for?—okay; alright.
Dave: Alright? Obviously, you are going to know Douglas; but these two—right?—see if you know. I’m going to take out the line that tells what you’re—it’s a task you are doing, and we’ve done this recently—but it says: “Heavenly Father, in such menial moments as this blank I would remember this truth: my unseen labors are not lost for it is these repeated acts of small sacrifice that, like bright, ragged patches, are slowly being sown into the quilt of loving kindness that swaddles this child.”
Dave: So beautifully written, by the way.
Bob: When you got to “swaddles this/swaddles a child,” I was thinking, “Clean the toilet”; but I was in the right ballpark; right?—that’s changing a diaper?
Dave: Yes; changing a diaper. I mean, I just read the first paragraph. I mean, listen to this: “So, this little act of diapering, though in form sometimes felt as base drudgery, might be better described as one of ten thousand acts by which I am actively creating a culture of compassionate service and selfless love to shape the life of this family and this beloved child.”
Ann: That’s beautiful.
Dave: Trust me; I read the whole thing. It’s so beautiful, and it does—it stops you to practice the presence of God.
Bob: This is not how we think about—
Bob: —cleaning toilets or changing diapers.
Ann: No; it is not.
Bob: Nobody goes, “Oh, I get a chance to sow into the quilt of the fabric and shape a service mindset in the life of my child for generations to come,”—that’s not how we think—but if we pause and go, “There is something bigger here.” Stop and think:
1 Corinthians 6: “So, in everything you do, whether it is eating or drinking”—back to the most mundane, daily things we do—“do all to the glory of God.” That’s at the heart of—whether it’s diapering or beekeeping; right?
Ann: —and to pray without ceasing as well.
Ann: It’s a way of staying in continual contact with God.
Dave: Douglas is looking at us, like: “Guys, I know this. I know this. That’s why I wrote the book!” [Laughter]
Bob: I have to think, when you sat down and said, “Okay; I’m going to write a liturgy for changing a diaper,” there has to be a part of you going, “It’s just crazy to write a liturgy for changing a diaper!”
Doug: I wouldn’t describe that as my response to it because I think, for me, there was something in play here that probably parallels something that I see as a refrain in my fiction writing as well; and that is, when I am writing fiction, inevitably, I find myself going to a place where some very difficult things happen to the protagonist.
For me, it’s a way of working out this question/this theology of: “Okay; if the things that I claim are true are true—if the things Scripture says/if the promises that are made in Scripture are true—then they have to be true in the very worst experience that I or any other human being might ever have, so let’s cut to the chase. Let’s go right to those moments of loss, of grief, of fear and try to work out, in the context of a story, how these things are actually true, even in light of the most difficult of circumstances that we go through.”
With Every Moment Holy, I think there was a similar kind of dynamic going on, in that I am saying: “Okay; I believe every moment is holy. I believe that all of life is consecrated and lived out, under the gaze of God and under His sovereignty, and that every moment is an invitation to grow in relationship to Him/to move deeper into that relationship.” So, if that’s true: “Let’s look at some of the most mundane, menial, thankless tasks that we have to do; and let’s apply that promise to them. Let’s look at it through the lens of scriptural truth, and of where Scripture tells us history is going, and of where our lives fit into that now. Let’s see if we can articulate a theology of how the act of changing a diaper actually is part of—or can be part of—the building of the kingdom of God.”
Bob: I’m thinking about my morning this morning. I took a shower; I put—
Dave: Bob; Bob, we really don’t—[Laughter]
Bob: I did what you did!
Dave: I put on my socks. I didn’t clip my toenails, but they need that. I’m thinking, “Should I have had a liturgy for clipping my toenails, or for taking a shower, or for putting on my socks?” At some level, you go, “This could expand to the absurd, where, ‘Am I really supposed to think about clipping my toenails with a liturgy in mind?’”
Doug: I think, when you introduced the show a few minutes ago, and you were talking about practicing the presence of God—I think that’s the heart of it. It’s not an exercise in “Okay; how many things can I create a liturgy for?” It’s an exercise in learning to think about every aspect of our lives in terms of God’s presence, and His purposes, and His involvement, and the way that He is constantly shaping us and drawing us; right?
I think that’s the heart of it—is practicing the presence of God—or as you explained that: “practicing our ongoing awareness of the presence of God.”
Ann: Well, as I’m reading, too—and it’s not just the mundane things—it’s areas where we may feel insecure or fearful. I’m looking at this one; and it says: “A Liturgy for Those Who Feel Awkward in Social Gatherings.” I’m thinking about anxiety—how people are so filled with anxiety and depression today. I like that you are kind of addressing these things.
You are a really good writer; it’s beautifully said. In this one part, it says: “I know this about myself, Lord. In a room full of people, I would rather retreat into a quiet corner and flip through the pages of a book than to step beyond the walls of myself to engage another person in conversation.” I think so many people feel that, so you’ve put it into these beautiful words that are pleading with God: “God, enter into this with me and be my companion as my insecurity and anxiety may flare up. I need You.”
Ann: I like that; it’s beautiful.
Doug: Yes; I just—my wife and I got to make a trip to Ireland a few weeks ago. It was the first time I had been there; most of the time we were in Northern Ireland because that’s where my great, great grandfather came from.
Bob: I was going to say [Irish accent], “Good for a McKelvey to get back to Ireland”; yes? [Laughter]
Doug: I actually got to find a business there that’s still standing that my great, great, great grandfather and grandmother founded.
Doug: It was a wonderful trip. We have some good friends there, and we stayed with them for several nights. Their youngest daughter is really having a difficult time in school, just being kind of bullied by other girls. She’s the sweetest kid, but it’s just difficult for her to go to school every day.
Her mom, Heidi, told me while we were there—she said, “You know, a lot of nights, my daughter will come to me with your book and will say, ‘Mom, can we please pray the prayer for “Those Who Feel Awkward in Social Gatherings”?’” because for her, it’s helping her set the context of what she’s about to walk into the next morning. She’s feeling anxiety the night before about these difficult relationships, where she’s being picked on and snubbed.
Ann: She may not even be able to process or bring words to her feelings, and it probably has helped her.
Doug: Yes; I think so. I mean, it moved me to tears when her mom told me that—just to know that there was something articulated there that is resonating with her tender, little heart and that is helping to shape her theology as she walks through this difficult season and a hard situation.
Dave: Are you seeing a return, in this generation, to liturgy? I mean—
Bob: —more formal liturgy; you’re saying?
Dave: Yes; more formal. I mean, I’ve sensed it, as a pastor, in a church that’s pretty contemporary.
Ann: —of young families returning.
Dave: Millennials/Gen Z seems to be—again, I don’t know if there is research on that—but it seems like people are longing for more liturgical services than ten years ago.
Doug: I definitely see that. I’m no expert; I can’t tell you the reasons why; but yes, for whatever reason, there does seem to be a hunger.
Bob: I’ll tell you what I think the reason is. There are two parallel truths about God that we have to hold in tension. One truth is that He is high, and holy, and majestic, and glorious, and beyond us—He is transcendent—is the word theologians would use. The other truth is He is near, and He is our friend. He is our elder brother, and He is as close as a friend. He is in us and with us. So, He is high and holy, and He is near.
Now, the more we lean into the direction of Him being near, the more we start to lose the majesty of who God is. The more we lean in the direction of Him being high and holy, we start to lose the sense that He is with us, and near, and we can commune with Him. Understanding those, in tension, is important in our Christian walk.
As the church, we have leaned hard, over the last 50 years, in the direction of the fact that God is near: “You can have a personal relationship—"
Ann: It’s all about relationship; yes.
Bob: —“and you can walk with Jesus every day. He can be near, and He can be your buddy. He can be with you in every moment”; right?
I think we’ve lost some of the rooted, transcendent sense of who God is—that some of these more formal liturgies bring us face to face with. I think there’s a hunger in the lives of a lot of people, who have grown up in evangelicalism over the last 40 or 50 years, to say: “I want to know the big God. I want to know the powerful/the Almighty God—the God who has been worshipped for centuries by our fathers and forefathers—they seemed to, maybe, have a bigger view of Him than we have.”
There is a book that came out 20/25 years ago called The Trivialization of God that I remember reading. There is a quote in the book from Annie Dillard—she said, “I see people going to”—this is a paraphrase—she said, “I see people going to church, wearing Easter bonnets.” She said: “We should be wearing crash helmets. Do we not realize who we’re about to come in contact with? Do we not realize what we’re walking into? We’re walking into something that is—into the presence of the Almighty.”
Dave: Yes; and I’ve sensed, even in the younger generation at our church—they are longing for mystery.
Dave: We spent decades trying to explain away the mystery and make God explainable and practical—just what you’re saying, Bob—yet, they are sort of leaning in, saying, “I just want to sit in the mystery.”
Bob: So, a listener, who is intrigued by this conversation—how is this going to start to incorporate into their life or into their family’s life? What would be your hope for it?
Doug: We have an easy, no-risk way to see what these liturgies are about. We have a website, EveryMomentHoly.com—on that, we have liturgies from the book that you can download formatted PDF copies of. For instance, when it is around the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, we will offer a liturgy for feasting with friends as a free one.
Bob: You’re saying: “Sample this.”
Bob: “Go to the website, download one of these liturgies; see what the experience is like for you”; and then you might go, “I’d like to do more of this,”—
Bob: —and get the book and start diving into diaper changing with a liturgy; right?
Ann: Before we end, do you have a favorite that you have memorized?
Doug: I do not have any of them memorized; I do have some favorites.
Bob: What’s the one you go to most often?
Doug: The fiction writing one is one that I go to frequently because nothing drives me to the end of myself like the act of trying to write, whether it’s trying to write a liturgy, or trying to write a piece of fiction, or an essay. I just so quickly hit the wall and realize, “Apart from God somehow meeting me, in the midst of my weakness, in this process, I’m not going to be able to produce anything that’s going to be of any real service to anyone else.” That’s continued to be a go-to prayer for me.
Bob: Well, you have been a service to us and to our listeners just in having this conversation and in what you’ve written in the book. Thanks for coming and being a part of the conversation here.
Doug: Thanks so much for having me.
Bob: The book we’ve been talking about is Doug McKelvey’s book, Every Moment Holy. I just want to, again, read through some of the topics that he’s written liturgies for: a liturgy for the sound of sirens—when sirens are going off in your neighborhood, have a liturgy—the liturgy for those who experience road rage, liturgies for table blessings throughout the week, liturgies for leavings, for fearing failure, for the death of a dream, for those who have done harm.
The president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, is here. You’ve had an opportunity to put this book to work; right?
David: I have. The day we got it, I took it home. I was like: “I’m just going to try one of these tonight; this is different.” It was an easy choice: “Which one?”—when I scanned through the Table of Contents—like, “Oh, I’m going to have a chance to practice this one.” The title of it was “A Liturgy for a Moment of Frustration at a Child.” [Laughter] I go, “Okay; there is going to be some opportunity tonight for this.”
Sure enough, as bedtime was being executed, we had one that started spiraling a bit. I stepped out of the room, which is not what I always do. I went to this; I read it; I prayed. Wisely, it was a really short liturgy.
David: I’ve just got to share a moment with you—it was so helpful—“Let me not react in this moment, O Lord, in the blindness of my own emotion; rather give me, a fellow sinner, wisdom to respond in grace that would be a shepherd of my child’s heart.” As I just reflected that and prayed that back to God, it was so helpful; it shaped the rest of the evening. The rest of the evening, actually, didn’t go that well. [Laughter] It didn’t like solve it—but it made me respond in grace, mercy, and truth to my kid.
Bob: In your heart, at that moment—now, you had: “I’m a fellow sinner. I need to shape his heart. I need to stay on mission and not let my emotions overwhelm me.” A book like this can be a tool for that.
Thank you, David.
David: It prompted the Spirit being in charge of my responses that night.
Bob: That’s a great story; thanks for sharing that.
Again, we have copies of Doug’s book in the FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s titled Every Moment Holy. You can order from us, online, to order at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy.
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