My husband and I are members of an Anglican church, and one of my favorite parts of our tradition is the worship liturgy. It is repetitive, in the sense that we follow the same rhythms more or less every Sunday. We say the same prayers, acclamations, confessions,and creeds according to the church calendar. It is participatory, in the sense that we physically move and speak and embody the Gospel throughout the service. Who ever reads the Scripture passages will walk down off the stage and stand in the middle of the congregation for Gospel readings, to represent how Christ came and dwelt among us. We walk to the communion table every week, and put out our hands to receive—not to take—the elements, because we remember grace is a received gift.
The word liturgy means “the work of the people,” and the liturgy of our worship service has changed my life. I never knew how much I needed to experience an embodied worship. I am moved to humility as I put my body in a posture of kneeling. My heart opens to receive grace when I hold my hands open to receive the bread. My soul moves to the physical responses of this participatory worship; down in humility, up and forgiven, forward to receive. Liturgy has shaped me as I respond in this constant, repetitive, physical form of worship.
All rhythms, like church liturgy, shape us in one way or another. My worship liturgy changes the way I respond to God and receive grace. My habits shape my time and the way I live. My routines shape the way I spend my days and nights. Liturgies in their repetition and participation form and shape us. School is not meant to be the church, but one of the things I love about our culture of education at VCS is the beautiful liturgy of our campus days. The work of the people, the work of the teachers, the work of the students—it’s a participatory act. What I am called to do as a Godly teacher is create a rhythm to the day, and a liturgy of learning that my students can fall into that will shape them into the image of Christ, and help form them into the people God wants them to be. What does a liturgy of learning look like in the classroom? I think there are two key elements: there is repetition in order to remember, and there is a physical participation. Both work together to form and shape the hearts, habits, and minds of our students.
First, we need a repetitive rhythm because as humans, we are forgetful. We have to constantly recall what we know, and we have to remember before we can take in more knowledge. In my class, the students practice math facts before learning a new concept. They rattle off their phonograms before learning how to put them into new spelling words. We recite parts of speech and capitalization rules before learning how they work in grammatically correct sentences. How can our students truly learn if they cannot remember? We have a beautiful rhythm of repetition in that every subject begins with some form of memory work so that knowledge is truly ingrained in the students’ minds. We have to repeat in order to remember.
The second aspect to our liturgical learning is participation. There is a lot of recitation, but the beauty of it is how the students are called to participate, and therefore their learning is all the more formational. They are responding to what is asked of them, not just sitting passively and absorbing the material. In our sound-off recitations, they speak the answers aloud and all together as a class. They stand to read Scripture. They clap and use hand motions. As they recite in unison, they are actively participating in something bigger than themselves. I always say to them, “All of you together makes one single voice.” It’s a reminder that as they participate, each of them belongs to the class as a whole. Not only that, but because they so actively participate, it helps them taste the whole of their knowledge. In that moment when they realize they just remembered every word of the long poem, or every single preposition, they taste the fruit of their labor and start to grasp the big-picture.
As a part of our liturgical rhythms at VCS, we start the day with an all-school morning assembly during which we recite the same things, repeatedly. We participate as we stand and speak aloud. Every campus day, over and over, the students stand up and declare who made them and speak aloud truths of God. Together we sing hymns that have echoed through generations, and we repeat verses of Scripture until we remember. One of the sweetest parts of my day is listening to the catechism of morning assembly. I’m surrounded by students who are in the process of learning these words for the first time, and they are remembering it more each day. But it is truly a wonderful experience to listen to the students who remember these words from learning them last year. After repeating these words day after day, they do not just recite, but declare. “Who made you?” and they answer, “God!” They remember truth because they repeat it. They know the truth because they remember it. They are formed in this truth, and shaped by God more and more every time.
We don’t repeat the morning assembly material each day to be redundant, or because there is nothing “new.” I don’t start each new subject with some form of recitation work because it helps me govern my class well. We have a liturgy to our education because it is a formational practice, it is a life-giving rhythm. We recite repeatedly to remember. We participate because we belong to this work. We say truth aloud, each day, year in and year out, so our students will never forget. Repetition shapes us, liturgy forms us, and we pray God uses these rhythms of education to shape His children into the men and women He wants them to be.