Friday, June 19, 2015

The Ecology of Liturgical Spirituality

How can the church can come to know and welcome people who consider themselves to be “spiritual but not religious”? This is the theme of the latest issue of Liturgy. Fred Edie's essay, “Doubling Down on Liturgy: Inviting the ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ to Discover Sacramental Spirituality,” offers a way to assess what is happening in a congregation’s worship. 

Is your worship event open to the welcoming those who are "spiritual but not religious" into the most vital, most profound expressions of faith?

Edie's questions may lead to fruitful self-examination for worship leaders, especially because they point in two directions at once asking: 1) Is the way worship is enacted making clear the importance of the event? 2) Are the worship leaders transparent to the word of God and the sacraments of baptism and the meal, rather than being the center themselves? Edie writes: 

Participation in hospitable and artful liturgical performance is the first element of liturgical spirituality. This element, though basic, defies simple description because of the qualifiers “hospitable” and “artful.” How, for example, does one specify style? It is difficult to say, yet one knows it when one sees it. Perhaps reflective questions offer a better means of understanding and evaluating than a list of norms:

Do leaders and congregation together express welcome, hope, and
expectancy for God’s graced action in and through the font, pulpit,
table, and the gathered assembly?
Is the gathering around the font discernible as a ritual bathing
offered and performed in love?
 Similarly, is the gathering at table discernible as a meal
shared in community by and with a gracious host?
 Do the gestures and words of leaders and the people reinforce
these sacramental doings as occasions of grace, even as they may
in some settings also evoke solemnity?
Does the pulpit regularly serve as a setting for interpreting
the significance of the bath and table in relation to the scriptures
and to faithful life in this time and place?
Is the performance unhurried? Are leaders and people able to laugh
at themselves when something goes wrong?
Do they acknowledge publicly when God acts in surprising and
awesome ways in the midst of the community?
Do gestures, symbols, and words point to the paradoxes of
death and life, suffering and hope, presence and absence, and so on.

In general, these questions point to liturgical performance in which the triune God is made known and glorified, even as God transcends the assembly’s knowing. Such performance acknowledges mystery and evokes experience of the sacred, but it also manifests humility as it recognizes its own limits. . . .

Second, liturgy requires catechesis—though of a less didactic and more reflective sort to suit the subject matter. Excellent catechesis will include teaching the faith in relation to liturgy’s modes of disclosing it. It will enlarge persons’ imaginative/aesthetic capacities so that they might be moved and changed by liturgical performance, symbols, and poetic speech. Theology will be taught not as a separate subject but in connection to liturgy, and with respect to its implications for the faithfulness of worshipers. . . .

Third, practices within the sanctuary should be imaginatively (and frequently!) linked to practices beyond it. Liturgy both performs and presupposes the mission of God. For example, as the Eucharist satisfies the hungers of worshipers, so are they sent out to satisfy the hungers of the world. Similarly, as the font invites all to be washed into unity with one another—to be reconciled in Christ—the baptized will be offered opportunities to seek vocations of healing and reconciliation in their communities.

I understand these three—worship, catechesis, and participation in God’s mission—as an interdependent ecology; each strengthens and interprets the other. They propose a coherent Christian life. Together they constitute what I am calling liturgical spirituality.

Fred P. Edie is associate professor of the practice of Christian education at Duke Divinity School, and the author of Book, Bath, Table, and Time: Christian Worship as Source and Resource for Youth Ministry (Pilgrim Press, 2007).

Fred P. Edie, “Doubling Down on Liturgy: Inviting the ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ to Discover Sacramental Spirituality,” Liturgy 30, no. 3 (2015): 40-47.

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