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History is full of examples of ecclesial disconnect -- the lack of a connection between the ideas of the church and the worship of the church and the social responsibility and action of the church. This still is a problem in many denominations and individual churches within denominations -- just what is the connexion between how we worship and how we act outside of worship? Shouldn't there be some connexion? Shouldn't what we do in church both influence and reflect what we do outside of church? Shouldn't our worship transform us, and, if yes, what is the nature of this transformation in the world? This book, 'Liturgy and the Moral Self: Humanity at Full Stretch Before God,' edited by E. Byron Anderson and Bruce T. Morrill, is a tribute and witness to the work of liturgical theologian Don E. Saliers, who challenged both the church and the academy with finding the ways in which prayer and worship form the Christian life, and ensuring that the rhetoric and the reality match.
'In a day concerned more with promoting "good" feelings, enthusiasm, self-certainty, and self-fulfillment, Saliers' concern for the formation of the deep affections of the Christian life is perhaps most radical in his attention to the formation of those affections that address the apparent lack of certainty in the Christian life. In summoning the Christian community from what he calls "presumptuous prayer", Saliers summons us to liturgical practices of invocation, beseeching, lamentation, and confession by which, in addition to thanksgiving and praise, we name the fullness of human life, our experiences of God's absence as well as God's presence.'
The book begins with an essay by Saliers, in which he lays forth some guiding ideas for beginning the search for a connexion between liturgical practice and ethics, most especially as they reflect upon the prayerful formation of the self in community, and the development and expression of the ethics of Christian character.
From this beginning, the book proceeds in several parts. The first part begins exploring the tradition, practice and beliefs behind liturgical theology. This might well be summed up by the essay title by James F. White: How do we know it is us? The essays in this section different traditions, high, low and broad in liturgy, and the attendant assumptions and expressions that are valid for the communities.
The next part explores the formation of character. Many parts of the liturgy are deeply reflective of who we are as individuals and communities. Are we musical? Are we movement-oriented or stillness-oriented? Are we contemplative? Anderson's essay in this, subtitled Hymning the Self Before God, discusses the importance of hymnody, the style of hymnody, the reasons why changing music or hymnals is so volatile: the music is an integral part of the soul. We sing because it expresses who we are, Anderson writes. Later, he writes, 'We know that the act of singing identifies us as singers. But in singing a hymn, we identify ourselves also with a particular text and tune, even in only momentarily.' Further essays on prayer also serve to illuminate this topic.
The final section discusses the connexion of words and music, including a discussion of liturgical music and and essay of reflections on writing, prayer and practice entitled Clunky Prayers and Christian Living. In this essay, Brian Wren writes: 'Do they matter, these clunky prayers that spill out Sunday by Sunday onto worship bulletins in so many mainstream Protestant churches?' By exploring the spirit of worship, what works and what doesn't, he begins to details that do not occur to the regular parishioner, even the one who recites the clunky prayers week after week for years.
Saliers claims the last word, clarifying at the end of this work yet more questions, foundational and ongoing, as well as his concern that the knowledge of God cannot be without a form of recognising how God is known. Sustaining aspects of the knowledge of God are either upheld or drowned by liturgy; the glory of God is expressed or masked -- the community needs to be aware of what is happening in what they're doing. Saliers calls for an always-reforming spirit (semper reformanda) that is akin to the very call of the gospel itself, to a radical reconnexion with God made new in each place, by each community, in each time.
Ron Anderson is a professor and friend of mine, teaching at Christian Theological Seminary. It has been honour to have been instructed by him, to assist in teaching with him, and to be able to review this book.
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It's a good recommendation. Though I'm not a Christian - I do pray by my heart. Music helps much to free our minds while praying and certainly it creates better connection between us with our Creator. In other words, while our minds are working in a prayer, our minds tend to manipulate things, but hearts always tell the truth. Thanks.