The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

A few months ago I signed up to review books for Thomas Nelson. It’s not prestigious or anything—anyone with a blog can do it. I thought I’d enjoy it because in exchange for a review I get a free book. Nothing motivates me like free books.

This last book I read (The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister) was totally outside my paradigm. I’d heard of liturgy, but I really didn’t know what it involved, what it looked like, or why people did it. After reading this book, I’m fascinated.

According to Chittister, “The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ. It proposes year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are—followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.”

She had me at “attune.”

This book is a powerful explanation of the why of liturgy. It mines layer upon layer of meaning in even the most simple acts. Chittister won’t let Christmas be about gifts or Easter about a historical event—she repeatedly emphasizes the importance of seeing Jesus’ immediate presence and impending return in every commemoration of the past.

I love this book because it emphasizes the importance of living in concert with the life of Jesus, of allowing Jesus’ life to inform and transform mine. I love, too, the idea of experiencing the full spectrum of life with Christ—uncontainable joy at Easter, deep sorrow on Good Friday, anticipation at Christmas, selflessness at Lent.

I like the idea of on-purpose emotion, of crafted experiences. I’ve often wondered if in an effort to avoid being emotion-driven (in the churches I attend regularly), we’ve stripped the life of Christ of much of its power. By refusing to craft emotional experiences in our worship services aren’t we missing something? Anyway, that’s definitely a tangent. :)

Chittister writes beautifully. Every other sentence demands a highlighter. Consider these quotes:

*  “In the liturgical year we walk with Jesus through all the details of His life—and He walks with us in ours.”

*  “For Christians, Sundays arrive like moments out of time, bringing in their invisible mist, the sight of another way to be human.”

*  “We must do more than simply go through the Advent calendar; we must develop in us an Advent heart.”

As good as her writing is, this tendency toward the abstract and toward sentences that stand alone as well as they do in context actually bogs down the book. You never really feel like you’re hearing a story or like you’re on a journey. It’s more like riding the subway than riding a train—if that makes sense.

My other big beef with this book is that it’s being marketed to a diverse “Christian” audience and yet the author assumes a rudimentary understanding of liturgy from her reader. Most Evangelicals have little to no familiarity with the concept. I wanted an appendix with the actual calendar or a list of feast days and their significances.

Overall, the book was not very practical. It told me why to observe the liturgy and even how on an intellectual level, but it didn’t tell me how in a practical, get my hands dirty way. I don’t really know what observing the Advent would look like. Would I buy gifts? Would I read certain scriptures? I definitely would have benefited from specifics.

Still, I’m so glad I read this. And, as I gear up for Christmas, I have a lot to think about.