Nous -'knack' in scouse? Nous: Greek 'mind' some use? Nous: we -French- oui? Oooh. Life -don't talk to me about life: me with this pain down the diodes in my left side ... Here's not-nearly-random-enough loggings of what feeds my promiscuous curiosity. Your pay-off is some useful[?] links and provocative thoughts but also more insight than you may care on my thought-processes.

03 March 2013

Divine liturgy and culture

I'm intrigued by this pieces about the 'choreography of the Orthodox Litiurgy because it skirts aoround the issues but raises implicitly the questions we all wrestle with about the relationship of cultural context to meanings when Christains meet together with a tradition having roots in a different culture (even if a temporal difference more than a social or geographical one)
"Where the aesthetic significance and meaning of the ritual was largely understood  innately by the  faithful in  more traditionally Orthodox societies, this intuitive understanding is now lost. Most of the faithful do not understand much of the symbolism behind the art and action of the Liturgy. The aesthetics of the Divine Liturgy are now understood only by a small specialized group. Because there is a lack of innate understanding, much of the beauty is either missed or misinterpreted by the faithful. Many either vehemently insist on the purity of the ritual without understanding its meaning simply because it has always been done that way, while others too easily discard or replace powerful elements and gestures because they also do not understand its significance (Vas Avramidis) "
In actual fact this situation is not so different in principle from catholic ceremonial in the west. Much of that is rooted in symbolism which was presumably 'innately' understood in the late classical and early medieval world. But 'innate' is the wrong word if we think that means it is somehow the 'body language' is not learned but instinctual: it's all cultured and that means it can and does change. One sign of change is that something that people 'just got' now needs to be explained.

I think Thomas Cranmer's principle that liturgical language should be "understanded of the people" should be considered to apply to the body language of corporate meeting, the gestural praying relating to readings, intercession, confession, collection of money, setting table, preparatory actions, handling bread, wine and their associated vessels: in short ceremonial. This is a language in that it expresses and conveys meanings. However, if it fails to do the latter, it is likely that the body language it is using is no longer 'understanded of the people'.

So there are only two recourses open, logically, and the quoted passeg names them both: one is to teach people the language (corresponding to 'learning 'em Latin' to be able to take in the mass) the other is to 'translate' the body language into forms of gestural expression which draw on forms and habiti that readily make sense.

Actually, there is another possible response and that is to eschew body language in corporate prayer altogether. But I tend to discount this because, in fact, I don't think it ever happens. Some /many people think it does, that they don't do liturgy or ceremony. But in fact they do: there are always unstated 'rules' of organising meetings which are unnoticed. This means that either they seem obvious and 'natural' which probably indicates that they reflect the everyday out-of-church culture of the church members or that they have been tacitly socialised into the ecclesiastical language of space and gesture without realising it. So, in actuality, we're still left with the two choices previously mentioned.

As someone who believes that the Christian faith is wholistic; a body-mind-spirit thing, I would counsel that we recognise that we can't avoid using a language of body, space, artefact and gesture and so we should reflect on what we want to express when we pray together, how our wider culture tends to express such things and put the two together.

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