I applaud a great deal here, so much so that I consider myself a dedicated member of this broader endeavor. Yet three assumptions made by champions of the evangelical liturgy cause have left me with major concerns—especially as I reflect on the students in my former community. Their formation clearly failed despite the liturgical ethos of their institution. What lessons can evangelicals learn from struggles that persist despite liturgical involvement?
Too Much Ado about the Body
Many proponents of liturgical evangelicalism wax poetic about the benefits accruing from embodied forms of worship. Emphasis on the body, they contend, redirects evangelicalism’s reliance on learning and memorizing doctrine. Smith exemplifies this tendency when he interprets identity formation as the body’s purview over the mind.
In Desiring he tells the story of a woman with amnesia who had to be reintroduced to her interviewer each time he entered the room. Her memory of him faded as soon as he exited their shared space. However, if he shook her hand with a pin in his fingers, the next time he was reintroduced to her, she would refuse to shake his hand.
Smith concludes that the body triumphs over cognitive processes, embodiment taking priority over the mind. But I find this reasoning flawed for two reasons: first, the woman’s behavior occurs as a result of brain damage, a process we may not wish to make a norm. Second, and more important, her behavior does not demonstrate the failure of the mind so much as what happens when parts of the brain and body do not interact well. The woman’s ability to connect her memory to her sensory input remained, while her ability to connect memory to her visual input was hampered. So, what this experience reveals is the enduring interrelation of our bodies, brains, and identities.
Further, malformation can happen even when the body is liturgically engaged. In liturgy, one’s body is certainly involved and bodily habits are formed, but the goal should be transformation of the whole self. This will be true for children and folks with cognitive disabilities as well (contra Smith, in Desiring). In fact, if one’s mind is not involved—as far as possible—in one’s liturgical participation, liturgy becomes only an empty shell, similar to the Christian propositions devoid of application that Smith so decries. The only difference is that rote "liturgizing" entails disconnected bodily gestures, while rote memorization fosters disconnected thoughts. Either way, the person remains fragmented. Highlighting the importance of the body against cognitive processes does not heal the rift between mind and body; it merely shifts the emphasis of an already unbalanced anthropology. We need a fuller account of mind-body integration to form the whole person, not a continued zero-sum game pitting mind against body.