I’m starting to read The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch. It gets off to a goodly start. I’m only a dozen pages or so into the book and already I’m thinking about my devotional experience and life. Mr Maculloch starts off by trying to paint a picture of how far removed our worship, Catholic (whatever that word might mean) or no. He describes some figure work in an old little English country parish, with a worn figure carved before an arch by the altar, wherein a man’s naked buttocks are presented aimed right at the altar. He wonders what could the artist or patrons have meant by this … ending up with no answer but writing:
Otherwise the meaning of the figure is now irrecoverable from a belief system where the physical and spiritual were much more intimately, unexpectedly, and exuberantly fused than they became in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This was a religion where shouts of laughter as well as roars of rage were common in church, where the clergy waged a constant if perhaps halfhearted battle against the invasion of fun, entertainment, and commerce into their church building. (emphasis mine)
That makes the worship I’m used to sound like a dead thing. This book is going to be interesting, if only from the perspective of looking at what we have lost in our adventures along the trail of the Reformation (and its Counter) as well as what we have gained. Perhaps we can consider ways to get back some of that which we have passed by. If we could bring more of that life back into our church, might we get more people in the pews as well?
In our day and age, we are careful in our parish life very often to keep the earthly out of the devotional service for fear of being irreverent or disrespectful. Pre-Reformation art commonly displayed man in his nakedness. Modern Christian art rarely does and frowns disapprovingly on riotous excess in good Puritanical fashion. Today, Samantha at Intellectuelle speaks to a similar topic, wondering if even reading Ms Rowling’s books are ok because they speak of “good magic” yet in an obviously fantastic setting. She goes on to point out a book she has read off and on for years, which because of several graphic sex scenes she has decided not to pass this on to her husband as she writes:
After all, I wouldn’t hand him a novel with 8 or 9 Penthouse centerfolds interspersed throughout. Yet, I still have that novel and re-read it every few years.
Those two sentences don’t make sense to me in juxtaposition … for why is it good for the “goose” if not for the gander? But Samantha is not the only person who thinks similarly. Ours is an age when a lot of extremes in worship experience have been sanded off. For the “riotous shouts of laughter” and “roars of rage” are missing as well as public displays of contrition and sacrifice. Is it because of our political credo, which we all learn deep in our bones, holding “sacred” a separation of Church and State might also have led to the reverse, to whit us keeping our daily lives and concerns of state from our Church. But has that led us too often to separate the sacred from the human?
Admittedly things aren’t as bad as I paint them. But … what do you think?