Liturgical Formation & Shakespearean Impersonation
"We could attend our neighborhood church to be soothed in the knowledge that all was well as our tour guide slipped into leotards to dance, yet again, an interpretation of the Twenty-third Psalm." -- A.K., monk of the Archabbey of St. Meinrad
I've been reading, and relishing, Aidan Kavanagh's On Liturgical Theology. Not only is it a masterful work of theological erudition, it is also beautifully and wittily written. One certainly wishes more books like this were written. Then again that would be to wish that we were all extraordinarily gifted. We're not, though there is something to be said for giving it a try.
(See video below for an extraordinary sample of thespian skill.)
The goal of the Christian, she writes, as with the actor too, is not to be original but to be rightly imitative. Sam Wells, arguing a similar line in his slim but punchy volume, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, says our job as disciples of Jesus is to be less original than obvious. As he puts it: "Free from the paralysis of being original, the pressure to be clever, the fear of the unconscious, and the demand to be solemn," Christians, under the tutelage of Scripture, can learn how "to take the right things for granted" (69).
In Herdt's words:
“In that ultimate sense virtue is imitative rather than original, while nevertheless being reflective of the distinctiveness of each individual character and each particular social and historical context—at the same time mimetic and authentic” (344).
Kavanagh comes along and says: pay attention to what you do in corporate worship. Everything that takes place in our public liturgies, from beginning to end, from front to back, from top to bottom, should be in the business of forming us into the trinitarian image of God.
Of all the juicy fruit he drops along this vein, here is one of my favorite:
It goes without saying that this is a description of the liturgy at its best (at our best too). He continues:
Christianity becomes one telegram of consolation among others rather than a sustained experience of the presence of the living God, an experience which is itself the corporate message a liberated People proclaim in a world snared in thickets of its own making" (116).
In honor of this idea that, in corporate worship, we put on the whole of Christ with the whole of our person in the whole context of the people of God, I share with you this clever video. Here is a man who knows how to put it on. I watched it three times in a row just to savor the little moments of brilliance. (Thanks to Father Steve Breedlove for passing it along.)
(Image above: St. Genesius, patron saint of actors, attorneys, barristers, clowns, comedians, comediennes, comics, converts, dancers, epileptics, lawyers, musicians, printers, stenographers, and torture victims. He's a busy saint. Quote is taken from Kavanagh's book, pg. 68.)