Soothing the Soul with Liturgy

Many have been part of churches where the service always follows a set order, certain words or prayers are repeated, and specific songs are often sung. The set order of service or repetition of certain words in these churches can broadly be described as “liturgy.” Liturgy is the use of a customary repertoire of words or ideas, specifically used in public worship. Written prayers that are prayed by individuals or spoken together by congregations can be considered liturgical prayers. These prayers can be a powerful tool to calm the spirit and bring a person to a place of rest. There are at least three reasons why this is so.

First, liturgical prayers are already written down. If you can access them (more on this below!), you can read them. You do not have to spend time figuring out what to pray because it has already been done. Often when we are panicking, sorrowful, frustrated, or in despair, we cannot access the parts of our brain that think clearly and coherently.  With a collection of already written prayers, minimal executive function is required.

Second, liturgical prayers are “immortalized” in writing. The fact that someone took time to write them down suggests that much thought (or inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the case of the Psalms) has gone into them. These prayers often contain troves of truth and wisdom not found in the stress-driven prayers of the moment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the latter kind of prayer. But a healthy dose of truth about who God is and who we are in relation to him may be just what is needed in moments of misery. 

Third, liturgical prayers remind us that our frail, fallen human condition is universal. It can be so comforting to read words penned by fellow believers who lived 100 or even 1000 years earlier. When we connect with the words someone else has written, we remember that we are not alone, that others have felt the same way and struggled with the same issues. The all-in-the-same-boat phenomenon can be a powerful corrective to feelings of isolation. 

Where can we find these powerful prayers to use in our everyday lives and moments of need? The Book of Psalms is an excellent place to start. Many of the psalms were written as personal prayers and express a range of thoughts and emotions still relevant to today. Other sources include The Book of Common Prayer, The Valley of Vision, or A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. A more current offering of liturgical prayer is Every Moment Holy, volumes I and II by Douglas McKelvey. This offering has selected liturgies available for free download at https://www.everymomentholy.com/liturgies.

Liturgical prayer can be an effective way to express our thoughts and emotions to our Creator and plead for his intervention in our lives. It can also be a wonderful way to express our gratitude to the giver of all good gifts. Consider using the words of others who have gone before to express the intricacies of your own story. You may find it to be a soul-soothing experience!