We often read newspaper accounts of firefighters rescuing nearly-dead victims or policemen employing brave tactics to deter violence. When reporters ask how these heroes were able to perform under such dangerous conditions, the response is frequently that “our training kicked in.” Repetition, discipline, and purposeful routines in the past are able to produce clear thinking and swift action in the moment.
The firefighter, for instance, endures extensive training to become a firefighter and to remain one. The rhythms of his life are centered on his need to be ready. He studies the city for the best routes to potential blazes. The drills at his station keep his mind sharp and his muscles poised. He is a firefighter, and all his activities are aimed toward this identity.
We would be right in saying that our firefighter is a liturgical animal. His liturgies reinforce his readiness to put out fires. Often he faces distractions and social pressure from friends and strangers to relax his routines and to pause his habits. Why must he always carry his radio to concerts? Why must he often sleep at the fire house, next to the pole? Why must he work weekends? Why must he watch his diet? We can call these counter-liturgies, for they seek to deform and devalue his identity. But our firefighter is vigilant; he must not only hold fast to his commitment to the formative rhythms that constitute a firefighter, he must also resist the deformative pressures that call him away from his role.