by Lisa Nichols Hickman. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2005. ISBN 0664227597. Pb., 162 pp., $14.95.
Years ago, a professional book reviewer told me that when you read a book you should always begin with the acknowledgements. With that instruction still in my mind, I opened up the first pages of The Worshiping Life: Meditations on the Order of Worship by Lisa Nichols Hickman. Imagine my delight to see names of pastors I actually knew and at least one church listed where I have worshipped! I felt at home with this book right from the start knowing that a number of Lisa’s mentors were folks grounded in down-to-earth pastoral ministry.
The Worshiping Life is a collection of twenty-five meditations, each one reflecting upon a different aspect of worship. Hickman begins with the Gathering and goes right on through to the last Amen. While many books written on worship these days seem to discuss the pros and cons of traditional, contemporary, or blended service styles, Hickman’s emphasis is on the elements of Reformed worship. She divides her meditations into the main parts of the service: Gathering, Proclaiming, Responding, Sealing, and Bearing Out. Following introductory remarks on these aspects, she delves more deeply into each line of the bulletin, including the Call to Worship, Opening Hymn, Confession and Assurance of Pardon, Prayer for Illumination, Scripture Readings, Affirmation of Faith, Sacraments, and even the Middle Hymn!
The Worshiping Life is a good choice for personal devotional reading. While it is not a “textbook” per se, I would certainly recommend it as a resource for a Sunday school class on worship or as a discussion book for a small group exploring worship.
Hickman begins each meditation with a Bible verse or a brief quote. Then she invites the reader into a worshipful space as she considers the topic. In her opening chapter on Gathering, she references the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, noting that at the end of the day, the disciples gathered up the crumbs into twelve baskets. She reflects: Maybe Christ knew that gathering crumbs is an act of worship … that in the repetitive motions of bending, grasping, [and] lifting, a prayerful frame of mind emerges even amid the weariness and irritability … Christ shows us a new way of understanding our call as disciples to pick up the crumbs. …
In worship we gather up the crumbs, and in our gathering we are reminded that a miracle has taken place. We pick up the day-to-day-ness of our lives and give it to God as an offering … We haul in our calendars, report cards, financial statements … We bring the stuff we have done and the stuff we have left undone … our preoccupations and our occupations, our hopes and our failures. Life can feel pretty crummy sometimes, and yet we are still called to worship (pp. 6-8).
Hickman uses a variety of personal stories from her pastorate in the desert and as a student pastor and hospital chaplain. As a parent and pastor, I also appreciate how her calling as a mother touches upon the holy in the daily rhythms of life. However, Hickman does not rely on her own experience alone; rather, she draws upon a wealth of contemporary and classic poets and dreamers, theologians and musicians, playwrights and authors to illuminate the order of worship. In one meditation she quotes Paul Tillich, then in another, it’s Stevie Wonder! She is eclectic in her tastes so there is something for everyone. I was not only nourished by her writings, but I now have a new list of books and movies to read and watch and reflect upon theologically— not to mention some great sermon illustrations!
As a regular worship leader it is easy to take for granted the order and elements of Reformed worship week after week. One of my favorite sections is Hickman’s reflection on the Opening Hymn and on why churchgoers don’t always sing. After quoting from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, Hickman confesses her own reluctance to sing. At first she blames it on her tendency to sing off-key! But then she gets to the heart of the matter: “The reason I hesitate to sing is really because I hesitate to be transformed. Singing transforms word into wonder, and there are days when I would much rather sit around ‘stringing and unstringing my instrument’ than face transformation” (p. 23).
Hickman calls us to think upon our own Sunday morning experience and challenges us to renew our commitment to worshiping God with heart, mind, and voice–and to being open to transformation of the same by the Holy Spirit.
Nancy Jo Dederer is pastor of First Church of Homewood, Ill.