“Eighty percent of success is showing up,” as Woody Allen once famously said. I’m not sure there is any scientific data supporting his statement. But I am confident his advice resonates deeply with anyone who has ever embarked on a successful journey.
Continuing this metaphor, I’m reminded of the old idiom, “all journeys begin with a single step.” And so it is with Sunday worship. Vibrant eucharistic Sunday liturgies don’t take place without an engaged and active assembly. The operative word being assembly. In an age increasingly populated by “Nones” (No, not a mis-spelling of nuns but those who check the box next to None when identifying their religious affiliation.), it becomes necessary to emphasize the importance of showing up. And it is just as important to find others ready and willing to be with us on the journey once we do show up.
Being spiritual but not religious is a predominant theme for those who opt out of formal worship. And unfortunately, Sunday mass in too many of our parishes lacks the essential elements needed to inspire and sustain the spiritual lives of a great number and ever-increasing amount of our former faithful. These folks have signed-off on a weekly hour of lackluster preaching, mediocre music and seemingly indifferent congregations. It would be easy to stop here, blaming those who do not come for not coming. After all, Woody Allen is right isn’t he? You can’t find something if you’ve stopped looking. Right? I’m sure all of us who haven’t thrown in the towel must be right or at least more virtuous! Am I right or am I right??
Okay, those were trick questions. The showing up I was thinking of is much more about those of us who do show up for Sunday mass, at least physically. I spoke with a young woman recently who was raised Catholic but has begun searching for a faith community that engages her heart and soul. And she hasn’t been able to find that in our tradition. She has been finding the kind of sincere, heartfelt, enthusiastic worshipping community she needs to sustain her faith in a non-denominational evangelical Christian church. She is young woman actively seeking to grow in faith and serve the world. And we are losing her.
So our faith journeys do begin with the first step — showing up. But at some times in all our lives, we need more in order to find the strength and will to keep going. We need each other. And again, just showing up isn’t enough if those who are searching or need extra support encounter a church full of people but still can’t find God. They can only find the face of God in our faces. Are our faces and demeanor that of Christ to all we meet when we come to pray together? Do we sing and speak the prayers of the liturgy with heart-felt praise? Or do we sit back and rely on others to pick up the slack for us?
The beauty of ritual can be the continuity and assurance in repetition of familiar words, rites and symbols. Our tradition and history has a cache of two thousand years of prayer and ritual to help us when our own words fail us. When we need to explore the mystery of God, of that which is so much greater than the sum of our parts, we rely on beauty, music, poetry and art.
We can find all of that imbedded in the rituals of our liturgical prayer. Even though we may feel conflicted about the choice of words, or the translations used, or the style of music and ritual, the essence of our coming together in prayer for the praise and glory of God is our goal. The God that exceeds time and space is reflected in the words of St. Augustine, “O beauty ever ancient, O beauty ever new.” But words proclaimed without prayerful intention cannot convey that ever ancient-new beauty. All the stained glass, music and banners in the world can not communicate this great beauty alone. Only the People of God alive and fully engaged in graced moments of praise, petition and thanksgiving can bring our liturgies to life. We cannot realize the power and portals to the sacred available to us when two or more gather in Jesus’ name unless all of us “show-up” not only in body, but in heart, mind and soul.
Eighty percent of success for worship is showing up. What more does the Lord require? The other twenty percent: not to perform the rituals perfectly, not even to always agree about how we pray. The other twenty percent required is to come together loving God with our whole hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves.