Sunday, July 29, 2012

Four Hours--not in Church! Olympics vs Liturgy

I am not sure what to think of the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics   can you imagine sitting for four hours through a Church service?  And yet there I sat—and how many others worldwide—for a four hour “liturgy” celebrating—well I am not sure what it was celebrating.  It was so, well, post-modern.  I can’t say that I didn’t like it.  I did, for the most part.  Particularly the Queen’s parachuting in with James Bond.  The old lady is a good sport. (Well, we all know it was a stunt-double for the parachute part, but she went along with act and played her part at the palace and stadium.) But what did it all mean? 
I think one of the significant problems with the Liturgy of the Western Church (as opposed to the Eastern Churches and their various rites) is that we western Christians tend to over-define our doctrines so that the experience of liturgy leaves nothing with which to inform the intellect. I mean you get all these doctrines all the time so that when you get to Mass the actual experience of worship has nothing left to reveal to you.  And that approach of doctrine first leaves everything in the head rather than let the head learn through the experience of the heart.  (The various rites of the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, leave much more to the doctrinal implications unfolding from an encounter with the Mysterium.)  On the other hand, the Olympic ceremonies had no coherent doctrine to unfold and so created sentiment without content, and though they did that splendidly—to what purpose?  But I think that triumph of amorphous form over vapid content is the hallmark of post-modernism. 
So I really don’t want to write about the ceremonies except to draw our attention to the fact that hundreds of millions of people—allegedly a billion people worldwide—are able to sit through a four-hour ritual, however vapid.  Why are these same people so bored with Sunday Mornings at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility?   I must say that the new translation with its complex syntax isn’t helping, but I think the problem is much deeper than that. 
Years ago when I was in grad school I remember one of my professors (Jewish) saying that Christianity is a religion of orthodoxis whereas Judaism and Islam is a religion of orthopraxis.  She meant—and I think she assesses it quite well—that Christianity is all about doctrine and Judaism and Islam are about experience.  Perhaps we Christians, at least western Christians, need more experience of the Divine to balance out the heavy doses of doctrine.

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