Monday, January 28, 2008

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

Photo Credit: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Herman, D.E. et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Admin., Bismarck, ND

Saturday I watched the live video of the service held Saturday at Church of the Savior in Hanford, California, in the company of other Episcopalians viewing from afar. Although there was much of substance to be remarked upon, both in real time and after the fact, it was interesting that several people were struck by the similarities and differences in the style of worship as compared to their home parishes. The similarities far outweighed the differences, and the overwhelming feeling was one of solidarity with those who were present. Nevertheless, there was some fleeting attention to liturgical detail and with it differing visceral responses to how things were done.

Since then I've been thinking about writing something along the lines of "Good Liturgy - Necessary for Salvation?" (tongue-in-cheek, please) or simply "Good Liturgy - What Does it Matter?" One problem is defining "good liturgy" or even what might make it "good." I'm barely literate in such matters, let alone expert. But something struck me forcefully when someone, one of the most consistently articulate, thoughtful voices I've read said, in response to the alb vs. chasuble comments, "it's just clothes." It was, I take it, meant lovingly and with gentle humor (of the kind articulated with more gusto in the "Jesus in the fridge" story). Nevertheless, I still wanted to shout out "NO it's not!"

The truth of the matter is that some days the only thing that finally gets me out of bed and to church Sunday morning is the liturgy. This is, I'm sure, reflective of the infirmities of mind, body, and spirit that I suffer from time to time. But assuming for the sake of discussion that the impulse is not entirely pathological or trivial, I wonder what moves me so.

* * * *

Been reading many things trying to find the words to explain some of my thoughts and feelings about the liturgy -- including Keats on "negative capability," all sorts of writers -- literary critics, philosophers, and psychologists -- on Keats, but especially Walter Jackson Bate (who authored, among other things, a text on criticism that was the focus of a course I took in college), and off into icons and Eastern Orthodox views, including Giakalis, A., Images of the divine: The theology of icons at the seventh Ecumenical Council, which took me to, and Scott Abbott (see post above). If and when I stop reading and my own words come to me, I'll get back to explaining why a rose is rose but not a rose (and see if it can give some sort of principled defense of why I don't want no Protestant informality, chumminess, clap-happy noise, or inattention to ritual detail -- why the sounds and images and love and care in doing liturgy thoughtfully and intentionally are important. But... then again, maybe I'll just keep reading. ;)

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