Learning Things That Cannot Be Taught: A Reflection On Relationships

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.
-Aidan Kavanaugh

I’ve been quite immersed lately in trying to understand the kinds of people that are what you would call a “feeler.” My wife is a feeler. Some of my best friends is a feeler. I am using this kind of language based on Myers Briggs preference pairs of thinking and feeling. People range on a scale in this way of approaching the world, so it isn’t fair to throw them all into categories. But I find that sometimes looking at the different contrasts helps to understand.

The problem with me is that I land very heavily on the ‘thinking’ side of this scale. I have an ability to be able to process everything first before I feel anything at all towards a situation or person. I can quickly turn off and on feelings based on what I am thinking about.

The reason I have been immersed lately is because I desperately want to learn to love and appreciate feelings and emotions. It is very difficult for me to learn anything that I cannot understand. The one I love the most experiences the world in a completely different way than I do – and yet I do not understand half the time what is happening. And any attempt to explain goes over my head. In the same way she looks at me when I say “just stop feeling that way then.” (don’t worry all you out there, I haven’t said that since my first year of marriage!)

This is why this quote at the top stood out to me. This idea that there are things to learn that cannot be taught. I think this is why I got consumed with the idea of liturgy at theStory. There were just so many things that were not clicking for people through preaching and explaining. But liturgy does something different to people – that gives people the freedom to learn things which cannot be taught.

I am wondering then what these things are for relationships. What is the liturgy equivalent inside a marriage? What will give me the freedom to learn that which cannot be taught or explained to me?

2 Comments

  • What is the liturgical equivalent inside a marriage? Liturgy is the work of the people. The work your engaged in from the time you get up until you go to bed is your work, your liturgy, entrances, exits, prayers, songs, antiphanal speaches, reading, silence, meals, parambulations, intimate moments.

  • Hey Nathan. I’m a Myers-Briggs “Thinker” too, as well as a “Judger” (INTJ—The Improver). Growing up Anglican didn’t exactly help my emotional engagement with the liturgy, since it was in 16th-century English and constantly required translation in order to mean anything. Add to that dreadfully poor reading of the scriptures from the KJV, sermons seemed to be designed to bore the congregation into submission, and the discomfort of lengthy periods on our knees. The eucharistic prayer was packed with so many different theologies of redemption that it defied comprehension to a young teenager (“who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”), and it exhibited a peculiar listing of adjectives in the order of subsequent nouns (ie, “full sacrifice, perfect oblation and sufficiant satisfaction). With stuff like that, how does emotional content even have a chance?

    During my time at theological school in the early 80’s, I was exposed to Roman Catholic liturgy, with music very different from what I’d grown up with. Forget that it was often accompanied by guitars (imagine—guitars!), the words required much more emotional investment than I was willing to give. Every time I heard “Hear I am, Lord” I went into a slow burn. For some reason that song became the focus of my anger about what I deemed the poor quality of RC liturgical music.

    And then one day I simply allowed it to speak. I don’t really recall the occasion, but perhaps Isaiah 6 had been read, and at some point later we sang “Here I am, Lord.” So I made an intellectual connection which somehow allowed a much deeper emotional one to surface (it was at this point in my life I was beginning to seriously consider that I might have a calling to ordained ministry).

    So music—which has always been so integral to Anglican worship—was probably the first point of contact with my emotional life. But the second had just as strong a pull. Through a wonderful prof (also RC!), I discovered how much power symbols can have. And when a symbol is respected by being used generously, its voice is potent and compelling.

    Consider the difference between flat, tasteless Communion wafers and warm, fragrant, delicious home-made bread (hence the old joke—”I can believe it’s the Body of Christ. I just can’t believe it’s bread!”).

    Whenever I’ve performed baptism by immersion, with lots of water, it creates a remarkable amount of congregational energy in comparison to a few dribbles from a silver shell. Usually, when the new Christian comes up out of the water, the congregation bursts into spontaneous applause (and you don’t get much farther away from Anglican reserve than that!).

    The first time I officiated at a burial, I was surprised that, during a prayer, the funeral director took out a glass vial, unscrewed its brass top, and made a large cross out of sand on top of the casket. I later asked what that was about, and was told “It’s the vestage of the burial. Sand is so much cleaner than earth.” What!?

    Somehow we need to resist the temptation to reduce our symbols so that they’re manageable and convenient—prevent them from becoming McDonaldized. When they’re alowed to speak clearly, we can’t help but be emotionally touched by them. We’re designed that way; it’s in our DNA.

    What do you think?

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