Lexi Eikelboom’s interesting blog post on Flow and the Christian Experience of Time (Module 1, Class of The Rhythmic Theology Project) defines “flow” as
Flow is a perfect state of concentration without struggle. In flow, one is working on something with such absorption that one’s sense of time disappears.
She places this concept in conversation with the liturgy, in light of “O’Donnell’s conception of liturgy as disintegrating the barriers between past, present, and future so as to more tightly integrate them,” and then raises a number of questions to which I thought I’d try responding, although in a slightly different order. My responses focus on the Catholic celebration of the eucharist, “the source and summit of Christian life.”
2. what is the creative challenge in liturgy that we are attempting to creatively meet that might induce a state of flow?
Communion. The eucharist is a foretaste and promise of that heavenly banquet at which we will be in perfect communion with God and with each other. In this life, that’s quite a creative challenge! 😉
It’s why we begin with a penitential rite, confessing our failings and seeking reconciliation with God and with each other. The latter is best evidenced in the Confiteor, with its parallel “I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters” and “Therefore I ask blessed Mary ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.” It’s why, immediately before communion, we pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him how to pray; and then share a sign of the Peace of Christ that is not the world’s peace.
Another way to spell communion is love.
1. I have had plenty of experiences of simply checking out during worship and having my muscle-memory take over. In fact, sometimes I have to work hard to not let this happen and I suspect I am not alone in this. So, if it is the case that occasionally the opposite happens and we find ourselves in a state of flow during liturgy or worship, I think it’s worth asking what it is specifically about that situation that enabled an experience that might otherwise be unusual.
Ah, this is why liturgists care so much! There really is a difference between “good liturgy” and bad liturgy and mediocre liturgy. The purpose of the liturgy is to properly dispose us towards the grace we will receive so that it may bear fruit in our lives. Good liturgy is effective at so disposing us.
But we have to cooperate with that grace, by means of our “full, active, and conscious participation” in the liturgy… hey, that sounds a lot like “creative striving”! Good liturgy can make it easier for us to fully, actively, and consciously participate (rather than checking out or merely going through the motions), but the liturgy can’t do it for us. I believe the example of the saints shows us that as we ourselves grow in holiness, and as we practice that full active and conscious participation in the life of God generally and the liturgy specifically, it becomes easier for us to attain that state.
3. does the idea of flow represent a kind of premature eschatology in which past, present, and future are fully-integrated and we are peacefully at one with the flow of time? Could it be irresponsible to exist in such a state when so much of the world around us is in shambles?
“Foretaste and promise” of eschatology, not “premature” eschatology: that’s what the liturgy is for! Like the Transfiguration when Jesus allowed his closest friends to see his glory to give them heart through the struggles that would follow, the liturgy is meant to nourish us, encourage us, and give us hope (the theological virtue, not the sentimental optimism) as we are sent forth to love and serve the Lord. It isn’t irresponsible to spend an hour or two recharging our spiritual batteries so that we can return, refreshed and renewed, to the daily struggle.
And I’m not sure about that “peacefully at one with the flow of time”, either: not if that “peacefully” implies “impassively”. The creative challenge is communion with God and with each other, and the God who spoke through the prophets, including Mary in her Magnificat, is moved by the suffering of God’s children.
4. what or who, exactly, is flowing. More to the point, Christians will often talk about the Holy Spirit flowing through them. Is this what O’Donnell means, or is this sort of flow something different than temporal flow? Either answer would raise a question: If the flow of the Holy Spirit is something other than temporal flow, how are these two things related in liturgical flow?
Fill the earth, bring it to birth,
and blow where you will
Blow, blow, blow till I be
but breath of the Spirit blowing in me
— Sr. Dr. Miriam Therese Winter, 1966