• Vested Interest

The Long Obedience

Mary Davenport Davis
September 24, 2015

Like most people, I think, sometimes I go to church with heavy burdens that I’d like to set down for a few minutes. I find myself seeking sanctuary in worship, seeking to escape the world. And that’s all right. But if I think that I’m actually withdrawing from the world, I’m kidding myself. Liturgy is the work of the people, with emphasis on work. Something happens in worship. Something happens to me, and—I do believe—something happens to the world. It’s not “liturgy and action.” Liturgy is action.


My husband is an inorganic chemist who designs, carries out, and reports his experiments for a living.  He’s pretty smart; and having an intellectual grasp of the problems is important for a chemist. But equally important—so he tells me—is the manual dexterity, the artistry, the craft of chemistry. Precision of the fingertips and the eye must mirror precision of the mind; and you develop both through care and practice. More than this: he finds that paying attention to his technique when setting up a reaction or making a slide sharpens his mind as well.


Emily Dickinson writes, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church -- / I keep it, staying at Home --.” But personally, I never have much success keeping the Sabbath by myself. For me going to church is a long obedience, an exercise in gentleness, joy, openness to the transcendent. I find those things elsewhere, of course—in the mountains, in conversation, in music. But funnily enough, when I’m going to church regularly, my senses are sharper to see God elsewhere as well. It’s almost as though, as I take part in the work of liturgy, the liturgy also works in me.


At "Vested Interest," church nerd Mary Davenport Davis explores all things liturgy and music at Trinity and beyond. Chime in with comments and questions!