Pagan/Celtic Reflections #3

May 11, 2012

So what can we learn from the discussions that we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks? I’ve really appreciated the way people have been up for the conversation; haven’t hung me for being honest about my thoughts, and have contributed some really good stuff. It’s also been encouraging to hear from so many people (both publically and privately) how my posts have resonated with them. Thank you.

There are two aspects of both the Easter celebration at Chanctonbury Ring and the pagan Beltaine ritual that I described in my earlier post that struck me particularly. I want to look at one of those aspects here, and then the second aspect in my next post.

The first is the bodily nature of how worship was celebrated. At the Easter celebration we walked, sung, prayed, reflected around a fire, stood in silence, listened, ate and drank. At the Beltaine ritual they stood in a circle together, brought objects that represented their sentiments, walked into and out of a cave, and so on. In the Old Testament, too, alongside listening to and reciting the Torah and singing songs, it strikes me that the sacrificial system was an act of worship that involved the whole person, physically bringing something into the Temple. There was a lot of dancing, too, and the playing of instruments, all in all giving us a picture of worship that was far from static and motionless. As so many of the key characters of the Old Testament show us, we encounter God through our whole bodies, so shouldn’t our whole bodies also be involved in our acts of worship together?

I love singing and love corporate sung worship. I also believe passionately that singing is a fundamental part of being human – as was brought home to me strongly when sitting at Southampton train station a few weeks ago on the day they got promoted…!  I have friends who are involved in leading sung worship in church and I have no desire to disparage the good stuff that they’re doing. It’s also, of course, obvious to state with Romans 12:1 that we worship God with our whole lives.

But am I the only one who thinks it odd that the main way by which we conduct our corporate worship is by standing in rows and singing songs or reciting/singing a liturgy? We are, after all, whole beings, not just voices. The taking of communion is the one act that bucks this tendency and it is a wonderful thing, making us move, walk, kneel, eat, drink, pray and embrace others (or at least shake their hands…).

Interestingly, I recently came across a quote from the eighteenth-century revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, who seemed to think something similar when he said, ‘Some bodily worship is necessary to give liberty to our own devotion; yea though in secret, so more when with others . . . ‘Tis necessary that there should be something bodily and visible in the worship of a congregation; otherwise, there can be no communion at all’. No communion at all? Wow, that’s a strong statement…

I wonder, how might we begin to shift what we do when we meet together to worship so that it reflects our whole bodily reality? Have you experienced corporate worship done in this way? What role do you think sung/spoken worship has in a corporate setting?

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  • Reply Nathan May 11, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Very thought – provoking as usual. I believe as churches (especially in the West) we have a great deal to learn about worship on a corporate level. Is there, for example, a difference between corporate worship and a group of individuals who just happen to be worshiping in the same place? How do we minister to God in worship? Why is so much of our Sunday corporate worship based on singing and our 24/7 worship based on serving? Should not one learn from the other?

    • Reply ruthvalerio May 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      Nice points Nathan. I actually want to pick up on the last bit of what you say in a future post on worshiping with the wider creation. I was thinking about it last night and mulling on how, for me, corporate worship makes explicit that which is implicit through how we live our lives as a whole.

      • Reply Nathan May 14, 2012 at 9:47 pm

        I look forward to reading that!

  • Reply pxinick May 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Really interested in your article and discussions – as you’ll see from my blog Plot107 – I’m keen to find ways of marking the seasons in a way that is both real / natural and stands comfortably within my Christian faith. Hope to hear more thoughts from you as we all continue our journey.

    • Reply ruthvalerio May 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Thanks, nice to hear from you, and liked seeing what you’re doing. I hope you’ll enjoy my posts and I look forward to your input. ATB.

  • Reply Colin Bell May 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Other Christian traditions do stimulate a bit more than our Western Protestant tradition – scent and visuals in the High Anglican/Catholic churches, dancing in African churches and so on. But we all have a way to go.

    The example worth reflecting on is to compare our adult churches with the sessions we run for children and youth, which are vastly more creative and interactive. Possibly part of the problem is that we don’t call them “worship” but we ought to.

    As the youth worker at our church, I’ve been asked if the youth want to lead a service, and if we do, I’m very tempted to run the service in the same way as we do the parallel youth session on Sunday: games, creative worship and prayer, lots of discussion. I don’t know if I dare!

  • Reply ruthvalerio May 22, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Go on, give it a go!!

  • Reply B Evans January 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    It doesn’t matter what you do, physically, spiritually or emotionally if it isn’t based on a real relationship with either the God that we are worshipping or the people we are worshipping with. ‘The Peace’ is always a menace for someone like me, who just feels too awkward and shy to join in, UNLESS it’s with people with whom I have a relationship or feel comfortable with. And I rarely have that with most people at church because we only see each other on Sunday (that’s a whole other problem and debate of it’s own!).
    I have no problems with going back to ancient worship, in fact I seek it out. Participating in ancient rituals, connecting with God in the way that much earlier humans did, doing it outside surrounded by God’s creation – and using our voices. Yes please! Are their priests / vicars/ church leaders that specialise in ancient worship and have studied the history? I want one of those. My wedding was special – of course. My 10 year blessing (no vow renewals – they were a one off forever, no need to renew as they are as relevant to me today as there were when they were made) was amazing. Just my husband and I with our vicar, standing in the freezing wind and rain on top of an ancient barrow on common land. That had more meaning for me than all the expense of the big wedding (sorry Dad!).

  • Reply Turning 90 Degrees (Pagan/Celtic Reflections #4) | Ruth Valerio April 3, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    […] our voices, but also with our whole lives? This was well expressed by Nathan’s question on #3 of this little series: ‘Why is so much of our Sunday corporate worship based on singing and our […]

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