desiring the kingdom: the musical

desiring the kingdom: the musical

{ in this playful meditation, heather goodman explores liturgy, love, parenting, and purpose—grappling to make sense of the rhythms of a life lived in faith. }


James K.A. Smith wrote his book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship Worldview, and Cultural Formation, for fellow professors, students, and, upon further reflection, for pastors. I am none of the above in the traditional sense.

I read this book as a member of a church plant considering the shape of our worship and discipleship, but I found myself conversing with this book more as a mother and an artist.

Smith argues, in essence, that we need to move beyond knowledge to wisdom and that we do so primarily through worship. In short, this book considers how liturgy—meaning how we worship—forms “a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the kingdom of God” (p. 18). Every “liturgy,” an afternoon at the mall, an evening watching TV, a Sunday morning at church, shapes us, guiding us in what we should desire, what the good life is, how we should pursue that good life. The rituals and rhythms of our everyday lives mold us, and we enter into these rituals to pursue the good life. In other words (specifically, in the words of Lerner and Loewe), if we want “lots of choc’lates for me to eat,” we must practice our diction (“the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”), and practicing our diction forms us into a certain kind of person (“so damned aristocratic”) with a certain kind of vision for our life.

Any musician can tell you that. After thirty years of playing piano, I still practice scales and Hanon. These daily exercises teach my fingers how to react, so to speak, when in the vise grip of Rachmaninoff. At the piano, certain things become second nature. Smith used words like “precognitive” or “pretheoretical.” At times I’ve considered the logic behind a Hanon exercise, but most days (rather, the days I can get a few minutes of practice in before the toddler climbs on the piano bench with his rendition of Sweeney Todd), I offer up the repetition, my mind occasionally wandering.

+ + +


“Turn left here,” I tell my husband. “No, left. Left! Not right!”

“I am turning left.”

I realize my mistake. “I mean, turn right here.”

“Try the L-thing with your hands,” he suggests. But that hasn’t worked since taking Hebrew. I’ve lost track of which L is backward.

Then, an epiphany. I’ve never confused right and left at the piano. The world is my piano, and all navigation successful.

+ + +

Liturgy informs our way of life, or how we live life. It seeps into us like water into blood. It forms muscle memory. Or, as Tevye would put it, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.”

So when Smith writes, “[Liturgies] prime us to approach the world in a certain way…every liturgy constitutes a pedagogy that teaches us, in all sorts of precognitive ways, to be a certain kind of person…implicit in them is an understanding of the world that is pretheoretical” (p. 25), I write in a marginal, “Art reflects or embodies the pretheoretical.” And I find myself considering how art is, in some sense, liturgical beyond practicing scales.

How does participation in art—I say “participation” to encompass the creation of an artifact and the response to an artifact (which is a creation of sorts)—shape and reflect my understanding of the world?

Of course, there are the “churchy” forms—the worship song, the hung icon, the children’s musical—but what of the short story or the concerto? What of the things not done in the sanctuary? Of the things that take you away?

Even now, as I write this, I pause between sentences to smile at my youngest child, an infant who refuses to nap when her brother does, and I wonder how I can steal even moments from this chatty little girl to work on my short story. But somehow art matters, and somehow I must draw these children into art as liturgy for the sake of their transformation and mine.

“A vision of the good life captures our hearts and imaginations not by providing a set of rules or ideas, but by painting a picture of what it looks like for us to flourish and live well. This is why such pictures are communicated most powerfully in stories, legends, myths, plays, novels, and films rather than dissertations, messages and monographs” (p. 53).

+ + +


“Hard times require furious dancing.” –Alice Walker

My toddler grabs the nearest toy and lugs it at the wall. I understand. The world is not as it ought to be, and the emotions of it all catch up to you, and you need to release all this wrongness in some physical form.

So I turn on Kid’s Praise 2 and skip ahead to “Arky, Arky,” and we dance.

It’s a family tradition. My dad marched around the dining room table with me perched on his shoulders, and now I grab my son, and we march with the elephants and kanga-roosies, roosies onto Noah’s ark.

Joy ootches in, and God is in control, and the other things don’t matter.

We come to the end of the song. “More,” the little boy says. Why not? We dance like Miriam and David until my lungs might explode.

+ + +

We read stories together or act them out with trains and Schleich animals and Rocket the stuffed dog. We dance to Muppets and Art Blakey and Beethoven. We play piano and drums and ukulele and kazoo and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. This is art; this is liturgy; this forms who we are and our “social vision” (see p. 53). These daily rhythms form us into a “peculiar people” (p. 220) who follow Christ into a life of hospitality and sacrifice and joy.

But what of the solitary things? What of pilfering an hour to work on that short story instead of memorizing the features of the little girl in my arms? Sure, motherhood means sacrifice, and if I write only for myself, then surely I must sacrifice myself for the sake of my children.

Smith writes that the goal of Christian education (and therefore parenting) “is the goal of Christian worship: to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who, communally, take up the creational task of being God’s image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation—but doing so as empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus’s cruciform cultural labor” (p. 220).

I write because in some small way, perhaps I can contribute to interpreting this vision of God’s purpose for us, for my children, in our world and in our community.

I write because I model for my children what it means to be sent into the world, which, in part, means to take up the God-ordained work of culture-making (see also Andy Crouch). I write because someday perhaps my little boy will understand the frustration of the fractured neighborhood, because someday my little girl will know what it feels like to want to run away, and instead of looking for a second house in Hawaii because that’s the good life in House Hunters International, they will see something in my stories that encourages them to “Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Book of Common Prayer).

But the writer’s work is not a monologue, alone as it may feel at times. I am one actor in a musical that spans generations and continents, and in the end, this song is not played on a solo saxophone but harmonized in duets and choruses with ostinatos and syncopated rhythms, and this is the musical I draw my children into in our family life and beyond our family life, the solitary and the communal sometimes a tango and sometimes a mambo between the Jets and the Sharks. So we dance and sing in this global musical with our church community working toward the final number of Thy Kingdom Come. These are the rituals and rhythms of our everyday lives that lead us into the life of Christ and out to the world, and this is how I am a mom and a writer—sometimes a professor, sometimes a student, and sometimes a pastor.




Heather A. Goodman lives outside Dallas, Texas with her husband, two children, and a few imaginary friends. Her fiction has been published in Ruminate Magazine, Relief Journal, Generate Magazine, and other online journals.

2 Responses to “desiring the kingdom: the musical”

  1. Tania Runyan says:

    Stunning piece, Heather. Thank you for this liturgy.

  2. Ryan Strebeck says:

    Great piece heather. Thanks for writing!

Leave a Reply

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