Friday, August 16, 2013

Body of Liturgy II

Whilst scripture generally discourages the practice of consulting the advice of demons (1 Timothy 4:1), we may allow an exception in this instance: 

“At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.” - C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 16.
The truth that Screwtape refers to is that humans are fully embodied creatures (Genesis 2:7). We are not merely cognitive beings; humans are whole-persons composed of mind, body, soul, desires, emotions, etc. The anthropology that emerges in the Bible is that humans are an intended part within the good creation, made in the image of God and for communion with God (Genesis 1:26-31).[1] Our purpose is liturgical in the sense that we live for the praise of God.[2] The antithesis of this reality is humanities failure to worship God, described by Paul a refusal to glorify or thank God (Romans 1:21).

Humans cannot be reduced to their soul, mind or worldview because we are liturgical beings. “To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are.”[3] The question then is: ‘What do we love?’ If Smith’s is correct in assessing that there are a whole range of secular liturgies nurturing people’s love and their imagination of human identity, then we are loving and being shaped by things that lead us to deny God the glory and thanksgiving that is his due. Keller articulates this as whatever captures our desires and imagination also captures our heart, becoming an idol.[4] However, Smith’s suggestion is that whilst liturgies can confirm our idolatry, they can also be used to nurture our attachment to the Kingdom of God and our love for Jesus. Not only can our love be aimed away from God, it can be aimed towards God.[5] The particularly Christian approach to this has been through liturgy, or worship. Liturgy is so effective in forming the whole-person – head, heart and hands – because of its bodily practices. Kneeling, standing, singing, head bowing, clapping, tasting bread and wine, all these embodied actions stoke the imagination for the Kingdom of God.

“Worship forms us and aims us because its concrete, material practices catch hold of our imagination. This is why worship is more like art than science, more like literature than logic. Worship is fundamentally aesthetic.”[6]
The necessity of liturgy was recognized by Broughton Knox, who wrote that without it congregations are reduced to an audience.[7] But if these liturgies are to have any effect, they must not be artificial or spectacle, otherwise they fail to be liturgical. All liturgies are not just symbolic and ritualistic; they are enacted stories that are (1) repeated and (2) participatory. Christian liturgy re-enacts the gospel, bringing body and mind together.[8]

[1]Kevin Vanhoozer, ‘Human Being, Individual and Social’ in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (ed. Colin E. Gunton; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 164.

[2] Vanhoozer, ‘Human Being, Individual and Social’, 166-167.

[3] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 51.

[4] Timothy J. Keller, ‘Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age’. n.p. [cited 29 May 2013]. Online:

[5] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 54-59.

[6] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 144.

[7] D. Broughton Knox, ‘The Biblical Concept of Fellowship’ in D. Broughton Knox Selected Works: Volume II - Church and Ministry (ed. Kirsten Birkett; Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2003), 82-83.

[8] Cf. Timothy J. Keller, ‘Reformed Worship in the Global City’, in Worship by the Book (ed. D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002), 214-217.

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