Saturday, May 13, 2006

Doing the Sacred Dance

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Bishop Geoffrey Rowell is on top of the issue here concerning the liturgical dance of the Church. With contemporary worship on the rise in many places in the UK, it is something that I predict will not endure or provide the depth of spirtuality that Christians need. Of course, there are many ways of liturgical expression that meets our needs as worshipers of God. But, an absence of ritual will not fill that need no matter how 'cool' the service is in attracting young people. There will be a point where they simply will want and need more. I saw this happen when I lived in the US. The younger generation there is leaving behind the informal worship of their parents who are approaching their 60's and are looking for more traditionally liturgical bodies to raise their own families in. The liturgical renewal is happening in the US and I believe will begin again in the UK. There is a lot that is often missing in contemporary worship that removes ritual and it simply cannot feed that divine image that longs for ritual that is deeply within us. Ritual is an element created within us that feeds the internal desire for rhythm and beauty and dances with what we are as liturgical beings. I have come to believe that what was a lack in the ability to understand and accept the need for a theology of ritual as creatures in the image of God was one of the major causes that moved the Reformers to act so strongly against Eucharistic Sacrifice. I think this is especially true of Luther whose theology of Justification by Faith Alone clouded what we find in scripture that describes the necessity of ritual that actually helps to define and shape us in what it means to be human. Here is Bishop Rowell in his own words:
Patterned movement is sacred dance. In the ancient Orthodox church of Ethiopia the choir of debteras, holding their T-shaped monastic crutches, dance in a rhythmic pattern to haunting drums and the metallic beat of the sistrum reminding worshippers of the hammering of the nails into the hands and feet of Christ at the Crucifixion. In the cathedral of Auxerre in medieval France the bishop and clerks danced to the plainchant of the Easter sequence over the pattern of the labyrinth in the floor of the choir, tossing the Easter ball to each other in a sacred pattern of rejoicing.

Stern Christians, nervous of corybantic excesses, disapproved of dancing. But others saw in the drama and movement of the sacred dance of worship a real rejoicing in God. St Gregory of Nazienzen, one of the great early theologians, tells his people that they are to dance the dance of David before the ark of God. His contemporary St Gregory of Nyssa speaks of the round dance of love as the very life of God the Holy Trinity, a dance into which men and women are to be caught up and transformed. St Paul speaks of Christ leading the powers of evil captive in a triumphal procession, and St Patrick praises the risen and ascended Christ “riding up the heavenly way”. Christ is, as Sydney Carter wrote, “Lord of the dance”.
Read it all at Times Online.


Anonymous David Cassidy said...


I think you're spot on with your thoughts on liturgical renewal. The young people are indeed fleeing for refuge. I hope with you for the same in the UK, a home in my heart. Just wondering though how you beleive Luther's doctine of JBFA has contributed to a litrugical demise in some way. There's a rich tradition of ritual and litrugy in the Lutheran churches. That Luther - and other Protestants too - saw that the medieval practice of the Mass was in need of reforming would not of necessity (it seems to me) have meant that they would have discounted ritualistic theology and the centrality of sacramental life. Maybe you could unpack that a little more, or just send me packing to do some more reading.

By the way, I have enjoyed getting to know a couple families from JKP in Ruston who have moved here and joined us at RPC.

Best regards,

5:06 am  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hey David! Great to see you here. I was thinking about the issue of JBFA that kept Lutherans and the Reformed from seeing the necessity of the Sacraficial nature of the Eucharistic offering within the ritual of worship. They saw at as a work rather than the much-needed ritual of renewal needed from the oblation in the Eucharist. That does not mean I deny JFBA but neither do I think that doctrine trumps the necessity of the sacrificial ritual needed in the liturgy. It was for that reason that Luther denied the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Please tell the good JKPC folks we send our greetings! Tell your people hello there as well. Did your choir director get his choir vested in cassock yet? I remember he was hoping to. ;-)

8:01 am  
Anonymous David Cassidy said...

I didn't think you had denied JBFA at all. I just wondered what your thoughts on Luther's view in relationship to the Eucharist were. I've been reaidng a very dogmatic Lutheran recently...I don't recall my teachers being nearly so strident. Of course I grew up LCA rather than LCMS.


Praying for you and yours,


5:15 am  

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