Thursday, August 17, 2006

“Wild Spaces” in Western Culture and Churches

(In “Ethical Metaphors” I hinted that the metaphors of the liturgy are ethical in direction, but in order to have converting torque in the assembly’s life they need deepening attention to the “wild spaces.”)

I’ll admit I am a contender for the liturgy—the patterned enactment of praise and prayer to the triune God around central public symbols. I will also admit that I and many who find deep meaning and formation in praying the liturgy do not consistently pay attention to God’s heart of love for life in all its forms.

Wherever I worship I am continually struck but the meagerness of the assembly’s prayers—whether or not they are “liturgical” communities. (I will say that those who are liturgical generally engage in a form of encompassing and expansive intercessions. However,...) Liturgical worship or not, the circle usually seems small: family, relatives, friends we know, and maybe our troops or hurricane victims. Seldom are there voices raised for the people caught as victims of war, poverty, genocide, AIDS, addiction, and displacement. Even more infrequent is there a voice beseeching heaven for the earth abused by human over consumption.

Liturgy as cult practice must connect with our shadow side; that is, liturgy must attend to the prophetic voice. Cultus and prophets have always been in an essential tension. Without cult, the prophets have nothing to rail against. Without prophets, the liturgical cultus becomes a wasteland of self-absorption while pretending to be worshiping in the name of God. This interdependence and interaction is what I so often find missing in much of the worship in which I participate. Either the prophet is unleashed and the liturgy dismissed, or the warm familiarity of our liturgy or “our praise and worship” is piously savored and the prophets barred at the door. I feel it is safe to say that is more the rule than the exception.

The prophet’s are the heralds of the “wild spaces.” Wild spaces are where one does not fit the white, male, Western, heterosexual, youthful, educated, able-bodied, middle-class and successful definition of “human being.” (See embedded image above.)

As an retired, aging, increasingly less able-bodied male, I am discovering that I less and less fit this mold. The parts that no longer matches the hegemonic definition is my “wild space.” I just walked up the street from Pike Place Market to my lodging in Seattle. I saw lots of people whose humanity had little overlap with the hegemonic definition. Big wild spaces! (By the way, I came across this concept in Sallie McFague’s Life Abundant--Fortress Press.) Can those wild spaces enter our attention in liturgical prayer? Will our churches find ways to pray the wild spaces?

Watch out for them! They will destabilize your status quo. Wild-spaces open windows to see Western culture from different perspectives and inviting us to reconsider it.

What is so much of the struggle in the North American churches and culture about? It is about God’s inclusion of the bits and pieces of being “created in the image of God” that the hegemonic definition does not include! (“No, Virginia, I am not only referring to sexual orientation!”) This struggle is concerned with the prophetic breaking in upon the coziness with which we like to tame the liturgy. The liturgy itself is not tame; indeed, I am convinced that the God who breathes it into us and empowers its enactment is wilder and more dangerous that our captive imaginations will allow. Remember Annie Dillard's comments about how worshipers act like they are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic when they should be putting on helmets and launching the life boats.

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, the consensus document of the World Council of Churches, summarizes this well when it says: (

E26. As it is entirely the gift of God, the eucharist brings into the present age a new reality which transforms Christians into the image of Christ and therefore makes them his effective witnesses. The eucharist is precious food for missionaries, bread and wine for pilgrims on their apostolic Journey. The eucharistic community is nourished and strengthened for confessing by word and action the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life for the salvation of the world. As it becomes one people, sharing the meal of the one Lord, the eucharistic assembly must be concerned for gathering also those who are at present beyond its visible limits, because Christ invited to his feast all for whom he died. Insofar as Christians cannot unite in full fellowship around the same table to eat the same loaf and drink from the same cup, their missionary witness is weakened at both the individual and the corporate levels. [emphasis added]

The resistance to the salvation of God's world—this world, this whole world, this beloved world—requires that worshipers pay attention, not only to the central things, but to God’s open doors and to the wild spaces to which we tend to be blind and deaf.

How will worship around central things in your community enact God’s open doors this coming Sunday?

Daniel Benedict

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