Book: Litanies and Other Prayers for the Common Lectionary, Year B

Everett Tilson and Phyllis Cole. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990. 220 pages.

As its title suggests, this second book in a likely series of three has structured services around the Common Lectionary. Authors Tilson and Cole have composed complete litanies and prayers that fit a weekly pattern of Call to Worship, Invocation, Litany (reflective of lections), Prayer, and Benediction. Given this script, a worship leader is free to read the liturgy verbatim or to revise it, as the authors readily suggest, to suit the style and setting of each worshiping body.

With acute social awareness, the authors have carefully chosen language that is culture-, age-, class-, and gender-inclusive, as well as ecumenical in its orientation. They are to be commended for sensitivity that goes beyond recent demands for "political correctness."

Tilson and Cole make other positive contributions. Their services are unified, from call to worship to benediction, by their close ties to the lectionary readings. Because the complete index of scriptural references permits one to locate litanies centered around a chosen text, churches who do not use the lectionary can still benefit from these plans. The authors have brought fresh language to a liturgical tradition that they highly respect as having properly focused the worshiping voices of Christians for centuries. While staying close to the orthodoxy of this tradition, the litanies and prayers have been given a contemporaneity that reflects the challenges of civil rights, war, disease, abuse, and apathy. The intent of the authors' choice of language is to fashion images that inspire the worshiper to bold praise and sincere prayer—to draw from the language and experience of the worshipers, enabling them to "hear with [their] eyes" and utter thanksgiving from their innermost being.

It should be noted that the authors' choice of language is very much their own. And though common sense (and the author's permission) would lead one to edit as seen fit, care should be taken to avoid some of the excesses the authors fell into in their attempts to vivify the liturgy. At times the writings are reminiscent of the poetic attempts of a student in creative writing class. A combination of quaint-ness, mixed metaphors, distracting alliteration, and confusing double meanings leave the reader-worshiper contemplating the turns of phrases rather than being facilitated in mind, heart, and tongue to freely give expression to the object of our worship.

To illustrate respectively, such phrases as "love that transforms the tomb into a womb," "not.. servants worthy of praise but as defendants deserving rebuke," "dollars for defense and pennies for peace," and "let us worship the Christ who reveals the divinity of true humanity," or "our Lord took the shortcut to the desert" divert attention from worship by provoking the question, "What did I just recite?" And the context of these phrases offers very little aid for comprehension.

The problem, here, is that this flourish of written words seldom sounds like the worshipers' spoken words. Furthermore, the use of imagery and its attempt to make liturgy more visual tend to overshadow what God has already said about himself. The authors would have done well to make a more profound use of Scripture, taking their cues from the psalmists, prophets, and evangelists.

Ruth Hofman is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church.