Finally, liturgy is not a pre-packaged entity. It is crafted, revised, and regulated by sinners. Diverse worshiping groups using the same or similar liturgical forms can foster very different experiences and habits. Liturgical Christianity, then, requires us to examine the nature of authority. Are some liturgies better than others, and who decides? Who recognizes which liturgies, and how and why? Who is chosen to preside and how? How are congregants treated by leaders; is the liturgy truly their work? Who gets to write and/or revise liturgies? Who calls these folks to account? Moreover, how should we handle conflicts over liturgical forms and practices?
I’ll give another example. This time I’ll pick on my own communion, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Its bishops recently approved a new liturgy highlighting an older rite that calls congregants to recognize any unfinished business and to ask and grant forgiveness of one another before Communion. I find this a wonderful retrieval, as it beautifully captures the stress Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives to waiting for and discerning each other as the Body of Christ. But does this not require ACNA’s leaders to make peace with the Episcopal Church it departed from, often in very unhappy circumstances? If not, why not? How can the confession rite form the denomination from here on out, especially if its applicability is already considered conditional? Are these good and just forms, and will decision-makers hold themselves accountable to the people?
Rightly Directed Desire
In order that we may more fully honor and walk with God, identity formation requires discussions that tease out the differences and interplay between emotions, thoughts, minds, bodies, and brains. In my view, what forms Christian identity is not espousing a priority of the body and emotions over the mind and thoughts, but the turning over of the whole self into God’s loving hands. How do we describe and promote this process?
One way to move forward would be to develop more fully Smith’s ideas on the significance of desire. I suggest that Christian formation remains elusive unless the mind-body is not only connected but also animated by desire—which of course ebbs and flows and can be directed, encouraged, or squelched by certain environments and practices. In Smith’s fictional example, a man named Alex can in his “regular and repeated immersion in the practices of Christian worship” absorb the temperament of God so that he is able to forgive his wayward son (Imagining). But this is not quite true. It is not the liturgy, Alex’s bodily behavior, or the emotion Alex feels while at worship that develops him into a forgiving person. It is rather Alex’s reception of God’s presence that allows him to receive the gift of God’s character reorienting his perspective.