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Janky and cranky: Real-life liturgy is a beautiful mess

When it comes to liturgical living, it's imperfection that lets in the Holy Spirit, says Shannon Wimp Schmidt.
Our Faith

In the July 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic, we talked to Marcia Lane-McGee and Shannon Wimp Schmidt about their new book, Fat Luther, Slim Pickin’s (Ave Maria Press), which weaves together reflections on pop culture, family life, and liturgy with U.S. history and stories of Black Catholicism.

In the course of that much longer interview, we asked Shannon Wimp Schmidt to reflect on what she and Lane-McGee call in the book “janky liturgical,” or the idea that liturgical living doesn’t have to be beautiful and curated. Instead, sometimes the most powerful family liturgical celebrations are those that don’t look perfect and that are created out of whatever is available at that moment—it is that imperfection that gives the Holy Spirit room to move.

What do you mean by janky liturgical?

Shannon Wimp Schmidt: Janky liturgical is a term I came up with about two Christmases ago to describe how I celebrate liturgical living.

I think that often when we hear the words liturgical living we think of these beautiful, Pinterest-worthy celebrations with appropriate food and decorations. But liturgical living is really just about entering into the liturgical year and celebrating the cycle in our everyday lives.

The way that me and my husband do that is a little bit janky. And if you’re not familiar with the term janky, it means kind of messed up. Like, “I can’t believe you’re still using that. Please fix it before it breaks.” It’s like an old, beat down car. You probably shouldn’t be driving it with the bumper all taped up, but sometimes that’s what you have and what you have to make do with, because you need a car to go to work.

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That’s how I feel about liturgical celebrations sometimes. For example, I work in a parish, so I’m very busy in Lent and through Easter. This year, because of all the craziness, I left my Christmas decorations up through the baptism of the Lord: I just got busy and never took them down. So then it was Good Friday and my stockings were still on the mantle. And so this year the Easter bunny put the Easter baskets in the stockings.

Sometimes you forget that it’s Ash Wednesday and you need to fast. So you say to yourself, “Oh well, I ate five chicken nuggets this morning, so I guess I have to do no meat on Thursday.” We try to keep the liturgical year the best we can, and we do it in a way that is intended to further our relationship with the Lord.

Liturgical living isn’t about following the rules because we have to or because we’re committing a sin if we don’t. It’s our attempt to enter into the spirit of the liturgical year and do what we can with what we have. To make do with what we have.

So many times in our spiritual life that’s the reality. I can’t pray lectio divina for 30 minutes today. It would be great if I could take the time for contemplative prayer, but all I have is 5 minutes in the car. So I guess I’m just going to talk to God about my day during those 5 minutes, and that’s OK. God wants us to make room, and when we do, God will enter that space.

The great thing about God, is that God doesn’t need much room. Just a tiny little sliver to get there, and God will make it work.

In Fat Luther, Slim Pickin’s you talk about how the very fact that these aren’t perfect liturgical celebrations actually opens up room for conversations about where the Holy Spirit shows up in your lives.

Schmidt: I remember one time—I think it was Good Friday. Or maybe Ash Wednesday. Either way, we were fasting, and I was really cranky. My son comes to me and he wanted something the way that kids want something. And I was just annoyed, and I snapped at him. But then I apologized. I told him I was fasting and I get cranky when I fast and that’s fine.

He was too young to fast, but he turned to me and said, “Well, why are you fasting? Why would you deprive yourself of food? That seems silly.”

My first instinct as a Catholic mom is to say, “Well, the church told me too. It’s our fasting day. That’s what Catholics do.” But thankfully, thanks to the Holy Spirit, I sort of paused and realize that this child was not asking me why I’m doing this because the church told me so. He was asking me why I, his mother, who he loves and tries to understand, cares enough to do this even though it makes her cranky and she doesn’t like it. So I paused for a second and I told him why it was important to me: It helps me grow closer to Jesus, and here’s why.

We had this beautiful conversation that wasn’t me talking about how wonderful fasting is or going on and on about canon law or the silly stuff that churchy-type people know. He was 8 years old: he wasn’t going to respond to that. But he knew who Jesus Christ is and why I love Jesus. And if I can tell him how fasting helps me love Jesus better, then my goodness, I’ve done my job as a parent that day.


Image: Unsplash/Sixteen Miles Out