Today’s Liberating Liturgy post comes from KP. They decided not to write their own liturgy, but to share with us a story told by a Jewish rabbi, and to rethink some classical Catholic liturgy. I found their perspective so important, and I know you’ll enjoy it as well.
KP lectures on Japanese lore, culture, and comparative religion. Help them continue their work at Crowdrise.
A Jewish story of the rabbis – this one of Simcha Bunim Bonhart – tells that everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket. When feeling lowly and depressed, the person could reach into the right pocket and find the words “For my sake, was the world created”. But when feeling high and mighty, powerful and overconfident, they could find the words “I am but dust and ashes” in the other pocket.
For those who are already trampled underfoot, the regular liturgies of humility and professing that one is not worthy can lead to further harm. This makes sense: when one already feels depressed, it’s easy for that person to find things that confirm the depression. Confirmation bias, it’s called; and depression does this without the person necessarily realizing.
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but say the word and I shall be healed” in the Catholic liturgy response can become the cry of someone seeking help – because they’ve been trampled so much, been so overwhelmed that there is nothing left. They start thinking they will never be healed, because they are not worthy, will never be worthy. What they can do except to cry out in pain, and curl up in a spiritual fetal position, hoping to wait for a moment when they’re not attacked or degraded by their own mind – or by the actions or inactions of others?
So what can we do?
First, I say “they” as an example, but “the unworthy” can be anyone among us. You. Me. The child on the street corner. The busker with a violin at the train station, the person with a sign huddled in a doorway. The lady in a business suit who is just barely keeping herself together, because this is her going to a fifth interview this month after a string of interviews which have all failed and rent is coming due. It can be anyone. We are called to live in harmony with each other, to demonstrate compassion to our kin and to this world; we are called also to live in moderation and respect. Yes, humility is good. But true moderation, true respect, is not to make those who are already low, stumble and hit their legs – already battered from similar stumbles – on the low mourning benches, on the table, on the altar.