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Liturgical Theology: Session 4

What roles have art and music played in worship history that we could reclaim today?  Think about the importance of beauty in the lives of believers – how does this speak to the roles we give them today?

Coming to the end of the online study portion of my directed study, I’d like to point out that this chapter has virtually nothing to do with the readings from White and Webber and addresses only Wilt’s lecture materials.

I found this to be the most disappointing session of the online study.  However, I suspect it is not necessarily a shortcoming of the course, but rather the variety in my own personal worship experiences.  For the person who has grown up within a single tradition, much of what is presented is new.  However, my experiences have ranged through Southern Baptist, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Episcopal, Mennonite, and now even Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faith expressions.  There is little in the history of art and music traditions that is not active in some part of the Body of Christ.

Having experienced a wide variety of these forms, I would like to comment on one moment in Wilt’s study.  As he moves through a meta-narrative that implies progression, there is a moment when the Renaissance introduces perspective and three-dimensional illusion to works of two-dimensional art.  Perhaps it is unintentional, but my impression was that a more realistic portrayal was somehow supposed to be better.

Earlier in my directed study, Aidan Kavanagh touched on the meaning behind the iconographer’s inverted use of perspective.  It would be foolish to suggest that early Christian artists did not understand the principle that we perceive objects that are further away as smaller than those which are closer.

The aesthetic (what Kavanagh refers to as the sacramental) sense of the icon is an inversion of "natural" principles.  Rather than producing a false sense of depth (both literal and metaphorical) that draws the viewer into the image, icons project outward, touching upon the truths within the heart of the viewer (Kavanagh 41).

This "hermeneutic" is the key to understanding icons, which express spiritual values by the larger sizes of key elements and a reversed perspective that sinks near objects into the background while projecting central figures and architectural symbols of holy spaces into the foreground.  Yet this fact was not mentioned in the meta-narrative of progress which seems to reserve a preeminent place for more lifelike depictions in the worship language of art.

Finally, because I’ve not actually referenced any of Webber’s book in these reflections (though I’ve been faithfully reading the assignments), I figured that I’d drop one reference to it here.  Again, I’m not really part of the audience that Webber was trying to reach.  That would be evangelicals raised outside of the liturgical tradition.  The premise behind his book Ancient-Future Time is a reclamation of the liturgical calendar for those whose traditions, since the Protestant Reformation, have neglected this particular worship tool.

I bring Webber into the discussion now because of the stunning lack of attention given to Pentecost in his book as he covers the liturgical year.  Pentecost, we are told, is the final Sunday of the Easter season.  It gets about two pages before moving on to final section of the book, the Season after Pentecost.

How are we to celebrate Pentecost?  Red…  Red clothing, red banners, red parapets and altar cloths, a red stole to be worn by the pastor, red cloths to be draped over pews, red flags to be twirled by dancers…  Red, red, red.

"How significant.  We remember what we see.  Here was truth in color.  Color in motion.  Color proclaiming.  Color acting.  Color reminding.  Color being performative—speaking, delivering, communicating the truth that the Holy Spirit has come" (Webber 163).

How very disappointing.  Red is a fine color, but Pentecost is so much more.  It is a celebration of the day on which the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on those gathered in the upper room.  But aside from the tongues of fire, they spoke and the Acts of the Apostles tells us that people heard, each in their own tongue, the good news of Jesus Christ.  Shouldn’t this be communicated somewhere in the reclaiming of the liturgical year as we locate ourselves within the rich heritage of our shared tradition?  Shouldn’t we also be joyful for the birth of the Church?

In like manner, Wilt began this course with a question:  "Why ‘Essentials:  Red‘?"  It appears that he personally associates the color red with passion, surrender, commitment, allegiance, self-offering, joy, exuberance, and "rivers of love pouring out of the Church" (Wilt).  As it turns out, Wilt grew up just up the road in Middletown, PA.  We should share the same cultural references for colors.  However, it appears that what he means doesn’t fall within our shared symbolic structures.

I believe that as I come to the end of this reflection, what I have happened upon in this online coursework is the language of Feeling (to use an MBTI concept), writ large through book selections and video blogs.  It may not be the orderly exposition of concepts for which I had hoped.  It may not be completely factually accurate either.  But it is an expression of the passion these pastors and worship leaders feel for their vocation.

Perhaps in the days and weeks to come I will devote time to thinking about their strange tongue.  Who knows?  Perhaps the Holy Spirit will work on the ears of my own heart.  Perhaps one day I will hear the good news of Jesus Christ as I reflect on the ecstatic mumblings of these worship artisans.

Works Cited

Kavanagh, Aidan. On Liturgical Theology. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1984.

Webber, Robert E. Ancient-future Time: forming spirituality through the Christian year. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Wilt, Dan. Essentials Red: reflections on worship history and creative vocation. St. Stephen: The Institute Press, 2008.

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