Liturgical Hermeneutics

The intent of this group is to engage in critical exploration of how we know what liturgical celebrations mean, with a view to learning how liturgy might better work to build a spiritually renewed community. Toward that end, the group will review current understandings of how liturgy means, with attention to pertinent pastoral projects.

Convener

Sonja Keren Pilz
sonja.pilz@huc.edu

Seminar Report 2020

Convener

Sonja K. Pilz, PhD, Ordained Rabbi, Editor of CCAR Press, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Members in Attendance

Ron Anderson, Michelle Baker-Wright, Bryan Cones, Dirk Ellis, Ed Foley, David Hogue, Jennifer Lord, Hwarang Moon, Gil Ostdiek, Sonja Pilz, Don Saliers, Allie Utley, Michelle Whitlock

Visitors in Attendance

Jonghyun Kim, Nick Peterson

Description of Work

This year’s seminar continued our group’s work on the meaning of the body in liturgy specifically focusing on the body in pain, a topic that we began to explore last year with the presentation of David Hogue and Don Saliers on lament and tragedy.

Papers and Presentations

  • Allie Utley, dissertation: “Transmitted Affects: ‘How Worship Feels’”
    Allie Utley presented her doctoral work on the intersection of affect theory and liturgy, focusing especially on liturgical silence, which sparked a rich conversation on the different kinds of silences from the demonic and dead silences to poised and God-filled silences. In the framework of our larger conversation, this conversation led us to a discussion of ritual ambiguity, liturgical practice as a tool, and authoethnography as a method of theological inquiry.
  • Michelle Baker-Wright, dissertation: “Kinetic Sacramentality: Liturgy as Technology”
    Michelle Baker-Wright led a conversation about her finished dissertation on the juxtaposition of liturgical theory and musicology. Unpacking her definition of “sacramental symbols [as] kinetic loci of expressive encounter and expressive response, in which the dynamic of symbolic reciprocity serves as a technology that forms a felt sense of divine presence to human experience,” our group engaged in a lively discussion on liturgical practice and musical performance, and embodied and trained liturgical knowledge.
  • Dirk Ellis: “Addressing Applause in Worship”
    Dirk Ellis broadened our discussion of embodied liturgical gestures to include clapping defined as applause (in contrast to clapping as an expression of joy, affirmation, enthusiasm, and musical engagement). The inherent difficulty in assessing the experience of the “clapper” and therefore in arriving at the conclusion regarding the meaning of the gesture reaffirmed our initial definition of the embodied liturgical gesture as inherently ambiguous; and of    authoethnography as not only a legitimate, but necessary tool to unveil the layers of lived theology.
  • Michelle Whitlock, dissertation: “The Practice of Liturgical Story-Telling”
    In dialogue with Paul Ricœur, Michelle Whitlock presented on liturgical story-telling practices as ambiguous practices that can affirm both belonging, a sense of completeness, and also of hurt, insecurity, and With Ricœur, she examined the potential of the stories we tell in liturgies and the spaces we open to the stories of the prayers and their agency; leading us to raise the following questions: How do we speak about pain in our liturgies? What if the liturgical narrative causes pain?
  • Lauren Winner: “The Dangers of Christian Practice” (in the presence of the author). Ron Anderson (moderation)
    We continued our conversation on liturgical ambiguity in conversation with Lauren Winner and her book on the damaged gifts of the Eucharist, prayer, and Baptism as examples of liturgical practices that have caused pain. In her book, Winner argues that liturgical “formation, growth, or damage may happen to us [….] although we do not undertake participation for those purposes” (p. 46). Winner’s critique of core Christian practices opened a conversation on the nature of liturgical critique; the nature of liturgical repentance (liturgy that repents); and liturgical modes of confession, repentance, and lament.
  • Joint session on “Liturgy and Pain with Critical Theories.” Gerald Liu and Sonja Pilz (moderation)
    In a larger conversation on liturgy as the potential source of pain and affirmation, our two groups discussed the necessity—in the face of the pain of the assembly and in the face of the non-communicable nature of pain (of embodied experiences in general)—of the humility of the liturgist and of liturgical reciprocity; the potential of our own pain to function as a training to liturgical humility (Romano Guardini, The Lord, Longmans, London, 1956); and the potential commercialization of liturgy as a wellness practice. Our conversation, based on the shared reading of Trauma and Transcendence: Suffering and the Limits of Theory (Intro, Chapter 2 and 3) providing us with a renewed language on “the infinite of obligation demanded by the transcendence of the traumatic experience[s of others]” (based on the writing of Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber), and the concept of “ethical transcendence;” as well as  The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry (Chapter 4), which outlines her concepts of the dichotomy of God as the creator who opens, closes, and wounds the human body, and humans as created (opened, closed, and wounded); tools and (liturgical) objects as an imitation and rebellion of the created God; Christianity as an attempt to overcome pain by means of an embodied God; Capitalism as the enlargement of the individual human body; and Marxism as a tool to embrace the materiality of the world and enlarge the body of the  collective.
  • Jennifer Lord: “Liturgy and Pain: Learning from Critical, Palliative, and Hospice Care Nurses’ Encounters with Patients’ Pain”
    Jennifer Lord enriched our conversation with a series of interviews she conducted with hospital nurses and chaplains. Her interview partners reiterated many of the statements with which our group had already familiarized itself (the uncommunicable nature of pain; the emotionally freezing and memory-erasing potential of trauma), but added examples of personal theologies of pain, such as pain as God’s love (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace; אהבה יםורי) and personal expressions of, at this point, a much discussed theme: “I really wish liturgies would be conscious of the pain people experience in their daily lives.”
  • Hwarang Moon: “Funeral Liturgy for Suicide? A Korean Presbyterian Perspective”
  • Ed Foley: “Decolonization or Decolonialism”
    Ed Foley presented his paper on an example of the decolonization of liturgy in the Philippines. Decolonization, as opposed to decolonialism, does not only aim at the deconstruction of colonial language and thought, but at the actual redistribution of power and resources. Our conversation focused on the possibilities and limitations of liturgy to make space for indigenous medicine, art, and practices; but also for improvisation, creativity, and lived spir ituality as a liturgical tool. Balancing the dangers of acculturation with the potential of translation, we discussed when liturgy stops to be recognizable, but acknowledged the inherent liquidity of ritual and sacramentality.

Other Work and Plans for the Future

Based on the address of NAAL president Gennifer Brooks, our group will engage in renewed effort to create Wisdom Work. We will continue our discussion on the ambiguity of liturgical practice but focus on the liturgies of joy, awe, delight, enjoyment, play, and resilience. In order to enable us to have deep, profound, and critical conversations, we will limit next year’s submissions to six.

Seminar Report 2019

Convener

Ron Anderson, Styberg Professor of Worship, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL

Members in Attendance

Ron Anderson, Michelle Baker-Wright, Dirk Ellis, Ed- ward Foley, David Hogue, Margaret Mary Kelleher, Nathaniel Marx, Hwarang Moon, Gil Ostdiek, Sonja Pilz, Marit Rong, Anthony Ruff, Don Saliers, Michelle Whitlock

Visitors in Attendance

Jennifer Ackerman, AJ Berkovitz, Maria Cornou, Jae- woong Jung, Jim Marriott, Ann Salmon

Description of Work

  • Don Saliers and David Hogue led a discussion of lament and tragedy, picking up on themes introduced last year, especially role of the body in meaning making and, in particular, in lament and response to tragedy. Drawing on his essay “Psalms in a Time of Violence” [Worship 92 (January 2018): 4-10], Saliers invited us to consider “What kind and texture of liturgical anamnesis does a community have in context of violence, unresolved grief, anger, regret, remorse. How do we address “lament denial”? What role might the psalms of lament and complaint play in such a response? Hogue noted questions the neurosciences were not helping him answer but for which the discussion of the role of the body have become helpful. Turning to a discussion of essays from Maxine Sheets-Johnstone’s The Primacy of Movement [(Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011), chaps. 12 and 13 “Thinking in Movement” and “Animation”], he discussed her key thesis that the experience of movement is the primal epistemological method, and that this is a turning toward the world.
  • Ed Foley presented work in progress entitled “Decoloniality and Liturgical Inculturation,” giving particular attention to the work of Joseph Mingolo, whose essay “Epistemic Disobedience and the Decolonial Option: A Manifesto” served as background reading for our discussion [in TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(2). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/62j3w283.] As Foley noted, the “decolonial” advocates forms of thought that require border thinking and are pluriversal rather than universal, planetary rather than Euro- centric, that validate local knowledges and languages, especially knowledge not mediated only by language, but by symbol, rite, gesture, and image. How, Foley asked, do we think about intercultural sacramentality?
  • Whitlock presented “Liturgy: Practicing Relational Narrative,” drawing on work in her dissertation in which she is developing a practical theology of intergenerational worship in a United Methodist In this paper she drew especially on the work of Etienne Wenger on “communities practice” and that of James Smith on the formation of desire through affective practices.
  • Hwarang Moon continued work the seminar had undertaken over the past several years on memory and the neurosciences. He presented “Influence of Liturgy on Human Memory: In the perspective of neuroscience,” in which he problematized his own Korean Presbyterian liturgical context where the liturgical focus has been on preaching in order to explore the dynamic relationship between liturgy, memory and identity.
  • In a joint session with the Liturgical Music seminar, Ron Anderson led a discussion of “Communities of Musical Practice,” drawing on material published in late Fall 2018 in an issue of Liturgy that he As Anderson noted in his introduction to the issue and to the presentation, conflict about music in the church is “often related to questions of musical style and taste, sometimes related to the leadership styles of musicians and ministers” but “conceal or at least leave unspoken questions of identity and practice, of who a particular community is as a “community of musical practice.” [Liturgy 33.4 (2018): 1.]
  • In our final session Michelle Baker-Wright presented “Critical Musicology and Kinetic Sacramentality: A Synthesis”, an excerpt from her dissertation in which she puts the critical musicology of Lawrence Kramer and Elizabeth Le Guin into conversation with the sacramental theology of Nathan Mitchell as a way to critique Mitchell’s focus on “otherness” in sacramentality, with the aim of expanding the trajectory of his thought into the realm of sacramental expression and generativity, absorption and imagination, and supple and reconstituted meaning.”

Other Work and Plans for the Future

A number of possibilities were proposed, including discussions of Lauren Winner’s new book, Dangers of Christian Practice (Yale, 2018), Gerald Liu’s book Music and the Generosity of God (Palgrave Macmillan 2017), the meaning of silence, how pain shapes liturgical experience, and the hermeneutics of African-American preaching—with attention to the assembly’s hearing.