Recently I’ve become acutely aware of a sort of “personal liturgy” we all develop in life. Our habits are ultimately what we become; a sort of compound interest is applied to the things we consistently do. A liturgy can be broadly defined as a collection of actions or mental affirmations that are effected primarily toward the same end and become habitual. Everything we do is ordered or formed in a certain way with regard to our goals and beliefs.
Perhaps some of what I describe as “liturgies” are merely “habits” to you, O reader, but I think when we consider the ultimate end we have in mind for man, something deeper comes out of just about any habit – virtually no habits are isolated. They all interact with one another. The reason we develop personal liturgies, or arranged forms of behavior is because we are aligning ourselves with the truths of life as we pursue particular intentions. We brush our teeth at a particular time to ensure we do so, because we wish to preserve our teeth for some collection of cosmetic and health reasons, and because planning to brush your teeth at 2pm isn’t expedient for those who work or go to school (although it certainly could be done at that time if one wanted to be particularly odd). So in the tempest of life, we carve out liturgies that preserve certain things or effect a certain end; training at the gym, salad dinner nights on Thursdays, and, yes, religious observances. Controlling these small actions, because they are performed so many times over a span is ultimately the key to controlling our lives and directing them to good ends.
Even if a person is not religious you see very clearly they have a particular set of liturgies and cycles that run their life and which give away their current state, their trajectory, and their goals. We are what we consistently do, regardless what else we think or say, and we are becoming what we are consistently doing. Liturgy is how we order what we consistently do with the realities we accept.
How could the parallel escape someone who observes the College Football season? The liturgies (complete with band music) and pageantry of the game, the deeper meaning of the game in terms of society, the resulting pride or shame that rises and falls with the fate of a team, the commentary of the talking heads and the resulting meaningless arguments…
As I have become more Catholic, I have begun to really see how integral the faith and its liturgy is to understanding life itself, and part of this is recognizing the universals and differentiating them from the particulars. Technology is a particular; it grows over time and changes, its evolutions producing shockwaves of impact across various industries and in the daily lives of nearly the entire globe.
Technology seems to uniquely have the power to destroy these “secular liturgies” and completely alter them in ways unforeseen. The advent of smartphones is destroying the necessity of a strong memory and rigorous preparation in many areas (such as travel), as the advent of the cellphone destroyed our ability to memorize plenty of landline numbers. The same smartphones have been used to completely alter the “liturgy” of finding a mate; perhaps much for worse than for better.
Before the invention of washing/drying machines, the labor of washing clothes was a liturgy all its own, with its own designated forms, affecting how we could live our lives and affecting how we ordered our time and resources. We would choose particular days and times to do the collection of actions that would accomplish that end, and how that fit into the rest of our life affected our “personal liturgy.”
As I said before, I’ve begun to think our habits are all part of one another. They form a mosaic liturgy that defines who we are and what we are becoming. And I think the rate of change in the modern world requires us to give very increased importance to how we manage our liturgy: our collection of intertwining and related habits which define our lives.