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The public processing of pain

It has been said that Twitter and Facebook are the electronic engines behind the waves of demonstrations that are sweeping across the Middle East. Social media have indeed kept people apprised of events, issued important information -- and have helped create a virus for change, but the real catalyst for these huge actions has been the courage to speak. And speak publicly. In any and every totalitarian regime, the freedom to speak is the first thing that is taken away. Sharing hope or pain generates a power that is not easily controlled, and so any gatherings where people can converse become illegal. Offenders are hauled off and rendered silent -- for days, for years or forever. Fear becomes a cultural norm. With the exception of a few among the elite, the populace is marginalized -- unless and until the gatherings become so large and the voices become so loud that the power of it all cannot be stopped. These are historic demonstrations, which will be remembered for generations, and which will reshape the future of each country. As we follow the unfolding of events in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, I keep being drawn to our less dramatic, but critically important weekly liturgical demonstrations, which have the capacity to transform lives as well as propose a reshaping of the future. I cannot escape the parallels between the two. In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh kept the Jewish people silent by making them slaves. They groaned under their oppression. God heard their groaning (Exodus 2:3-4); and God responded by appointing Moses to lead them to freedom. In so doing, God announced that pain is not meant to be a normal social cost. The Exodus story is the foundation of the Passover liturgy. It is a liturgy that begins in pain -- and results in freedom. Which is also the case in Christian worship. Worship is the public processing of pain. Eucharistic language is very clear about the pain of Jesus' death, and the celebration of his Resurrection. Our worship is designed so that people can freely offer up their individual or community pain in the prayers of the people, and bringing that pain up with us to the altar -- and then have it blessed and transformed through the receiving of bread and wine. Our worship is a demonstration of hope rising out of hurt. It empowers people with that hope -- to a degree that they become committed to transform systems that render us silent, oppressed -- or exhausted (and sometimes all three). Liturgy practices a critique of our world. It proposes a love from God in Christ and from the Christ-centered community; which lives in some contrast to a culture that regards people anonymously at best -- and marginalized or oppressed at worst. The demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen have released a huge groaning, and have exposed the limits of their local regime's despotic power. God invited Moses and his followers to hearken to an abiding power that defeated the armies of Pharaoh. Jesus beckons us to subscribe to a power beyond our knowing, and to a peace which surpasses all understanding. The purpose of worship is to provide a framework for us to express our confusion and pain, and to receive God's blessing, freedom and love. All the elements of worship -- the choreography, the space, the music, the color -- are crafted in such a way that we are not just free to speak -- but free to have our imaginations unleashed so that we can -- with the living Christ, work together in order to create a world of abiding justice.

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