Friday, April 15, 2011

Living Liturgy: Part II

You may have already read how I started Part I of this two-part series called, "Living Liturgy":
This week, some of my favorite bloggers [and I now] are using the word, liturgy, as they get on with their lives.  [I'm getting on now with living too.]  In Part II of this short series, I'll link to them.
Without further ado:

I do not usually admit this right off the bat – it is definitely a conversation stopper – but here it is: I am a liturgist. “Liturgy” is a common enough word among Christians, but it does not flow trippingly off Jewish tongues, and I am not only Jewish but a rabbi to boot. The word comes from the Greek, leitourgia, “public service,” which is how Greek civilization thought of service to the gods. The Jewish equivalent is the Temple cult of antiquity – in Hebrew, avodah, which meant the same thing, the work of serving God. That eventually morphed into what people do in church and synagogue. Christians call it liturgy; Jews call it “services.”
--Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D.,
"What’s this blog all about anyway?"

Will you grow up in love with liturgy, as I did? I have no idea. You will become whoever you become. I do hope that you will come to cherish this holiday, this season when we retell the story of how our people came to be a people, how we were lifted out of slavery and constriction by God's mighty hand and outstretched arm. How it is possible that even though this is a once-upon-a-time story, it happened to each of us -- it happens to each of us even now. I hope you'll thrill to the songs and the flavors as each year's new spring unfolds. I hope you'll ponder the question of what it means to be free. 
A Passover letter to my son

The author of three dozen books, Rabbi Hoffman — “Dad,” to me — is a preeminent Jewish liturgist (it’s a niche market, I know, but he’s got it cornered) and leading modern Jewish philosopher.
--Joel M. Hoffman, Ph.D.,
"Life and a Little Liturgy:
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, 
has a blog!"

I’ve listened politely to preachers who decry the “humanist position” and heard historians complaining about the effects of the Enlightenment. But, I have to admit I’ve secretly taken these comments with a grain of salt as, I am, after all, human and think there must be various advantages to taking this key fact into account. I’m also a Christian (just stating that upfront before I continue), and I believe humans have common needs – I’m happy to call these “rights”. I even believe that human behaviour should be governed by conventions lest another Holocaust is to occur.  Interestingly, the most negative reactions from other Christians against humanism (that I’ve seen) have been in response in response to psychology....  [T]he discipline well entrenched now, my mother is a well qualified one, so there’s little use protesting!!!  I figured I should learn some more…. Humanism seems as I thought, very pro-human, but also seems to be the cool cousins of Atheism… ( Some comments I thought I could resoundingly yell “Amen!” after;
Our vision is … a world in which human rights are respected and everyone is able to live a life of dignity....
God wasn’t here auto-writing through people, but something far beyond the scope of understanding of the authors took place at the time – Paul has an incredibly high view of Scripture both old and new, e.g. Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope“. I believe that unique, divine inspiration is contained in these books and I esteem them as texts around which the Church has gathered in liturgy, in practical application, and in seeking the meaning of human life.
--Tonya Riches,
"'The Mission of God' 
– and humanism…"  

Charlie Peer sums up with accompanying critique (rather kindly really) a great many people’s view of the prayer released by “the Church of England” for the royal wedding. (Then again, this is probably in part the result of a new part-time appointment of someone also relatively new to the Church of England to replace a full-time experienced Church of England priest to resource liturgy and worship.)
(Clayboy is really called Doug Chaplin.)
"Sunday best:
from trans clergy
to that royal wedding prayer"

Meanwhile we had some surprise visitors on Saturday afternoon who brought us flowers from the mountain top. It was an act of spontaneous pleasure and joy at having found such a perfect meadow on their part and we were the first people they knew on their way home. It was a lovely moment to see them standing there at the door, holding out the pretty posy pictured here, and to know with a smile on my face and a slightly sinking heart, that I had 10 minutes earlier decided to put off tidying the house for a little while longer ... aie! However, many who have experienced the untidy houses I have lived in may think that my levels of embarassment have perhaps not quite reached the required level for ensuring a tidy place!

The flowers from the mountain top will have faded and wilted by the end of the week but their meaning for me, the memory of their fragility and the smiles with which they were offered will remain. "Say it with flowers" the adverts used to say ... yet there was much that was unspoken in this small bunch of colour we received and which I placed in our favourite jug. So the yellow daffodils and the purple vetch speak for all that cannot be, for those things which cannot be said, for the deisre for joy even when this seems far off, for the promise that fear will truly be overcome.
For such small fragile yet powerful signs I give profound thanks.
--Jane Stranz,
"Of tears, laughter and flowers ..."  

In reading the the Gospel of John, I find that several interactions between Christ and the other people in the story can easily be seen as liturgical – a sort of call and response.... [F]or now, consider this example:....
--Joel Watts,
"Liturgy in John's Gospel"

Dan took one look at the wilting potted palm I brought home from BiLo and said, “I think they needed to be at least 21 inches long.”....

I guess in the back of my mind I’d hoped that all the liturgy and symbolism and tradition would magically restore my hope in Christianity and miraculously cure me of my doubts about God.  Isn’t that why young evangelicals have rushed out and purchased The Book of Common Prayer? Isn’t that why troubled, poetic folks like Anne Lamott and Sara Miles are Anglican? 
--Rachel Held Evans,
"Embracing The Not-So-Holy Holy Week"

For example, if I say I don’t take Genesis 1 literally, just what do I mean? For me, Genesis is not narrative history. Having said that, there are many things it could be, and it happens that I take Genesis 1:1-2:4a to be liturgy. There are figurative elements in liturgy, but it is a more specific label....  [I]n the Orthodox Study Bible [is a note] regarding the Greek word leitourgia ... : “Service is literally ‘liturgy.’ …” ....  But “service” is not literally “liturgy” nor is leitougia literally “liturgy.”
--Henry Neufeld,
"A Misuse of the Word LITERAL" 

Everything hangs on that even though. I have to find a way to feel grateful for the innumerable blessings in my life even though other things are tough. I have to find a way to understand (again) that I'm always already liberated, that the freedom we celebrate at Pesach is always real. That's what redemption means. We speak in our liturgy about God Who redeems us from slavery -- that's always ongoing.
Now running and playing with the real rabbis!

In the six quotations below, can you [and I] see how the word [liturgy] has had origins that are fairly restrictive? 
--J. K. Gayle,
"Living Liturgy: Part I"


G said...

I must say that I prefer the meaning of "liturgy" as used in the quotes of Aristotle, not to mean I am liking what he is saying in general.

J. K. Gayle said...

Please say more, Jay. What do you prefer specifically about "liturgy" as in the quotes of Aristotle?

G said...

I am uncertain to say much as I am not fully understanding Aristotle's use of the word liturgy. It only seems a bit more connected to the community life and not as cultic or poetic as it is usually used. I have little use for religion unless the liturgy of that religion serves the community in a holistic way. As I said, I don't like what Aristotle is saying in general, as he is horribly authoritarian and authoritarianism always lead to the abuse and oppression of the weak, but nevertheless, his liturgy is serving the community he seeks to improve even if his improvement is in the end unequal and cruel.

J. K. Gayle said...

I am not fully understanding Aristotle's use of the word liturgy. It only seems a bit more connected to the community life and not as cultic or poetic as it is usually used.

Yes, the community use of the word is very, very important. Ironically, some religious uses of liturgy, as used in some contemporary contexts, can exclude others from community. I think that's what you're suggesting by "cultic." So, back to ARistotle: what if we were more open to reading his precriptions for Greek community as cultic? What if we were to see, on a continuum, that his design for community is more racist, more elitist, more sexist, more devaluing of the marginalized than Adolf Hitler's and his Nazi cult's? Just as Hitler's program was to coopt religion into a National Church, so Aristotle's was to coopt "poetry" and "rhetoric" for his "politics." And what Plato (his teacher) began (in the "republic" -- See Eric Havelock's "Preface to Plato") so Alexander (Aristotle's student) implemented. And later coopted by the Romans, this "community" was prescribed with an iron fist. Now, I understand that's not at all what you're saying about liking the word as Aristotle once used it. What I hear you saying is that "liturgy" today can be exclusionary.

G said...

Yes, I think I agree with all you say, about Aristotle and about me. I suppose a big difference I would have with Aristotle is that I see all authority coming up from and belonging to the community, with an understanding that the weakest of the community must be heard and protected. For Aristotle, who owns this liturgy and for who is it being performed?