Practicality. Efficiency. Usefulness.
These are all attributes that most people value highly. In our day and our society, they make a product more valuable, and often contribute to our decisions to how we spend our days. We choose to do what is practical in the most efficient manner possible, so that our results are useful to ourselves and others. Sometimes, we use these criteria because we feel we have no choice – some things we would like to do have to be dropped from our schedule, or our budget, because they are not practical, wouldn’t be an efficient use of our resources, and no useful product or result would be obtained.
It is hard to think of a time of year when we are more likely to make hard decisions using these criteria than right now, what our modern society has come to call The Holidays. There is so much that we hope to do, want to do, have to do, that we just cannot do it all. Some things simply must be done; and some things must be allowed to slide -- they don’t make the cut. Even the parties we choose to attend have to withstand the test of practicality, efficiency, and usefulness.
I understand. Really, I do. My inner German, my training as a professional analyst, my dread of waste; all make me a sucker for such decision-making processes. However, please allow me to take the opportunity to beg you: Do not to fall for this!
The counter-example I offer you is: snuggle time with your child. This clearly does not fall on the winning side of the practicality/efficiency/usefulness contest. Yet, somehow, it carries its own imperative, and bears its inarguable rewards. Whether the child chatters aimlessly the whole time, asks a Big Question (Daddy, why do people die?), or just falls asleep, it has an immeasurable value. I don’t think I have to explain to you or verify how this complete waste of time confirms and strengthens the identities and relationship of both participants.
The Sacred Liturgy of the Church similarly fails completely when put to the test for practicality/efficiency/usefulness. Absolutely nothing is accomplished, and in fact much is lost. Heck, at a good one, some of our best things get burnt up! Whether you spend the time reeling off seemingly unconnected preoccupations to God, ask Him a Big Question, or simply settle into a restful peace, this time “squandered” bears great fruit in ordering your life rightly according to your identity and relationship with God and everyone else.
There is nothing practical or productive about worship. Many words are said, but very little new information is conveyed. The “Good News” isn’t that new, really. Much is done, but little is accomplished. And there are long periods of just ...being there. Gack! How unbearably inefficient and ...useless! What’s worse, it requires pouring out before God our precious time and vital essence, strewing the floor with our treasures, littering His place with our concerns. That simply doesn’t rate much in a busy society, especially in its busiest month, December.
But right now is precisely when our worship teaches us that we will never know who we are and who He is, unless we put aside all our tasks and priorities for silence, stillness, and waiting. It’s an audacious request, but He never fails to deliver on His promise.
Remember that if you are trying to decide if you can “afford” to attend Mass. The formerly fashionable concept of “quality time” never really filled the bill with toddlers, or with God. He offers us holy time, if we only embrace its inefficiency, impracticality, and uselessness.