Is Repetition Unholy?

September 8, 2011

I remember the first time I heard the bizarre statement that repetition took away from worship. It was, not surprisingly, in a Baptist church. I had, probably naively, asked why the church didn’t practice communion more often. The response was that repetition made spiritual practice meaningless and unimportant: “If you do something too much it no longer has any value, so we only practice communion every now and then to keep it fresh and exciting.”

That is an American response.

That is the response of a person who was raised on instant gratification.

That is the response of a person who expects new, exciting forms of entertainment.

That is the response of a person who values change over consistency.

That is the response of a person who values feeling more than commitment.

Most importantly, that is not a Christian response.

The Christian response is that our spirituality and worship are everyday, every hour, every minute happenings. We are admonished to take communion each time we gather, to pray without ceasing, to pray in a certain way, to sing songs, confess sins, listen to the reading of Scripture, meditate, teach, learn. These are all things we repeat. Unceasingly.

Repetition is not unholy. It is a deep, elongated experience that should make us into disciples.

Repetition in worship is just like when you tell a family member you love them.

Repetition in worship is just like when you take a drink of water.

Repetition in worship is just like when you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Repetition in worship is just like when you go to sleep.

Repetition in worship is just like when you go to work.

Repetition in worship is just like when you turn on a light so that you can see clearly.

Yes, I can readily admit that we can stumble into laziness or unfocused action in repetition, but that is not the fault of the spiritual practice, just as much as it is love’s fault when a spouse just mumbles the words “I love you” without any thought or care. We need to learn to embrace repetition in worship, the normalcy and comfort of sameness in worship, just like we accept this normalcy and comfort of routine in the rest of our lives.

I repeat: we need to learn to embrace repetition in worship. And when we do, we will become aware of the slow and steady movement of the Spirit in every aspect of our life. When we do, we will become aware of how God is steadily working on our holiness: through repetition.

Thomas

Thomas

Posts Twitter Facebook

Thomas Turner has been blogging on Everyday Liturgy for the past six years. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking and gardening.

6 responses to Is Repetition Unholy?

  1. But why do so many “contemporary” churches sing favorite songs over and over again? And why do they insist that one repeat a very specific “sinners’ prayer”? Are regular altar calls repetitive?

    • Thomas

      Indeed, Matt, so much of what “contemporary” churches do is a form of repetition they prefer over older and wiser forms of repetition…

    • Because “Father God I just wanna thank you” is free-love and surfboards, and “Lord Almighty, God of our Fathers, we pray you, harken and have mercy” is Pharisaical and stuffy. ;)

  2. Increasingly, I value the diversity of the ways we worship. I value Liturgy, and I value that there is also the option of non-liturgical worship for those it doesn’t suit. I value some forms of repetition, and I value that different churches will repeat different things for the people who feel closer to God when those different things are the ones they do more often.

    Look at the diversity of ways that God has drawn people close in the stories of the Bible. Essential for a loving God who chooses to love all kinds of people. Can we truly be the body of Christ with just one kind of worship? If so, it is a kind I have not yet experienced.

    Where there are two or more points of view that have endured the test of time within Christian faith, and we cannot identify something we have learnt from the people in the other “camp”, then we can be pretty sure God has more to say to us on the matter.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Repetitive Worship « Christianity 201 - September 20, 2011

    [...] another circuit of each chorus, you might find this somewhat challenging.  The original title was, Is Repetition Unholy? “Is Repetition [...]

Leave a Reply