Saturday, August 18, 2012

Space is dancingly experienced

“Space is dancingly experienced.” R. Schwarz, The Church Incarnate (Chicago University Press, 1958), 27.

Consider worship as a “built environment.” Often when we think about built environments, we focus on the architecture. And certainly architectural space is one aspect of built environments. But liturgical arts should and can encompass even more than simply the church building or the sanctuary, because in fact the whole world and everything that is built is part of human experience and thus a part of Christian experience. T.J. Gorringe, in the first book ever written on the theology of built environments, writes, “Christianity brings to all debates about the structures of the world through which we reproduce ourselves—economics, social and criminal justice, but also town planning and building—its understanding of God become flesh, ‘whereby and according to which’, as von Balthasar says, they build” (A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption, Cambridge University Press, 2002, 3).

            The church considers not only redemption in Christ through his resurrection, but also the restoration of all creation. Consider all the various ways that space as a whole can be “dancingly experienced.” This would include the sanctuary, narthex, and church building, obviously, but also the way communities move in the space, and also how communities move in daily life, on their way to and from church, and so much more. Ask: how are the grounds of our church themselves exemplifying a Christian theology of the built environment? Do our cars? Our bikes? What kinds of practices of the built environment are we practicing that let new creation shine through in everything we do and build?

            Furthermore, Gorringe argues that “a Trinitarian theology eliminates any fundamental distinction between sacred and secular… we find in Scripture, classically in the Magnificat, a preference for the everyday, the modest, humble and ordinary, and we cannot but take account of that in reflecting on the built environment… Christianity, I shall claim, is wedded to the little tradition…. Which for the most part comes to us only in scraps, in folk memories, songs, tales, and ballads, in pamphlets crudely written” (Gorringe, 8-9). Such a thesis offers the intriguing possibility that all the little tradition things most of our congregations are engaged in from week to week—printing bulletins, worshipping churches hastily constructed, with worn carpet, and stained glass poured by amateurs. All of these, rather than being inadequate in comparison to what Christianity typically aligns itself with—the “Great Tradition,” are then in fact exemplary of Christian faith precisely in their mundanity.

            Consider this insight. Then consider it again. Then consider it again. Repeatedly consider it and it might properly reconstruct everything you thought you knew about Christian worship and the built environment, what counts as art, as beauty, as faithful, as true.

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