Thursday, 24 November 2016

Karl Barth once commented that what matters most in the church's worship is not up-to-dateness but reformation. To be semper ecclesia reformanda does not mean to go with the time or let spirit of the age determine what is true or false. Nor does it mean to hide in the past. It means to carry out better than yesterday the task of singing a new song unto the Lord. "It means never to grow tired of returning not to the origin in time but to the origin in substance of the community." 
Or as Pius XII said in his encyclical on worship, "To return in mind and heart to the well-springs of the sacred liturgy" In our uniquely ahistorical milieu, sometimes the oldest truth has a strikingly contemporary ring. I our historical study of the liturgy, we are continually impressed by much that we have lost. Many of the liturgical innovations that were made during the heat of Reformation polemical battles have left Protestants with a truncated and limited liturgical life...Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat history's mistakes and to miss past glories in the narrowness of present expressions of faith. The historical norm reminds us that one of the best ways to arrive where we want to be today in worship is to first know where the church's worship has been before.

Worship as Pastoral Care, William H. Willimon

Monday, 17 October 2016

"So many times we pastors lament who these people in church ought to be rather than understand who they are. We concoct "innovative worship" based on some theoretical principle of ours without seriously considering realistically the limitations and possibilities of our people. We limit our notions of what true worship is and fail to see when our people truly worship in their own way. We are baffled when they reject and resist the preconceived liturgical pigeonholes we try to stuff them into. The pastoral norm reminds us to take the people who worship with pastoral seriousness and sensitivity."

-- Worship as Pastoral Care by William H. Willimon

Monday, 5 September 2016

ritual and liturgy

Life as liturgy 

Condensing abstract
transcendence of Trinity
to reality

***

"Ritual serves as the point of interaction between the abstract and the mundane, the human and the divine. It simultaneously enacts transformations in two different realms, drawing from each to make something unnatural to both. It makes practical actions transcendent and the transcendent realm concrete. In the course of ritual, mundane actions are transformed so that they are more than mere actions; they become actions that surpass what can be achieved by ordinary physical means alone. A ritual's combination of actions can simultaneously affect the interrelated states of an individual, society, the world, and God. For example, in the case of the חטאת ritual, the ritual actions may effect כפר, bring forgiveness to the individual, reconciliation with God, and a restoration of order to the world.

At the same time, these ritual actions concretise the abstract. They make complex ideas, the divine and the immaterial, practical and accessible. Ritual can condense a complex theory that functions on multiple levels into mundane ritual action. Through ritual, humans can communicate with God, bringing Him and His power to bear in their world. Through ritual, a group of actions an make tangible the immaterial world, which is believed to be real but transcends mundane representation. In the חטאת ritual, sin and impurity become quasi-physical. The ritual transforms a bloody mess into an effective response to sin and impurity."
— Michael B. Hundley, "Keeping Heaven on Earth", 2011.
Review here: http://www.jhsonline.org/reviews/reviews_new/review607.htm

***

Briefly browsed through this book when I made a (semi)wasted trip to school because I got an appointment date wrong. Well, at least I discovered some exciting content that prompted my oft-floating thoughts on worship and liturgy, and why churches should have some form of ritual in its worship services. Documenting them here so that I can refer back some time.

Ritual as liturgy in a church reflects the degree of its compliance to tradition (regardless of what strand originates/is created from), but the depth of its ritual is seen within its relationship with God, with one another, and with the world. Ritual brings to bear the abstract upon the real, the concept upon the practical, the ineffable upon the limited.

Interestingly, for the Christian ritual, this exchange never stops at the two parties of deity and worshipper; the Trinity or otherness of the deity pushes the worshipper to reflect the deity to the other, the neighbour (John 13:33-35).

Ritual as liturgy even in the individual life is inescapable. The most mundane activities of our lives reflect some kind of ritual — take a day in the life of a stereotypical Singaporean for example — we wake up, brush our teeth, get changed, eat breakfast, leave for work or school, return home, take our dinner, shower, unwind, brush our teeth, go to sleep. It is a tradition of daily routine that is taught to us by our parents, but even in this routine there is embedded meaning.

We get out of bed because we have a task to accomplish for the day. We brush our teeth because we have been told it is good hygiene. We get changed because we need to look appropriate for the task. We eat breakfast because it is necessary to have energy to do our task. We do the task because it is expected of us, and because we will gain something from it. The list of reasons go on.

The liturgy of life thus becomes an order of rituals carried out in our daily living. But how often do we stop to consider each of these reasons? And the deeper question beckons — what meaning does all these rituals contain, and for what purpose? What does the liturgy of our life reflect, and more so, if we are created in the image of the Triune God, how does it reflect Him?

The dialectic between the individual's life and community living as Christians — as the Catholic (universal) Church — thus continues. The Christian ritual carries meaning within itself and the worshipper's participation and contemplation of it should enrich the being of the individual and its immediate cultic community and thus the world.

However, a weak(ened) understanding of the ritual also means that the ritual loses its value and therefore to the worshipper, its power is diminished. But as analogous as it is, we as Christians would say that the Divine that gives it the meaning (and therefore) power reserves final comprehension of its true value in the worshipper's life. The analogy of ritual has to contain some intrinsic power to maintain its divine content, perhaps in the form of its illocution. Such retained mystery in the transcendence of ritual thus preserves power; the sharing of the ritual form with the worshipper to partake is but a means of grace. But intrinsic power cannot be mistaken to be literal power, lest the mystery of the ritual and its Divine Participant turns into yet another idol or amulet to be manipulated...


NB: Thoughts of the blog owner are always still in progress and should not be taken as her dogma, because sempre reformanda.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

worth-ship

My first impression of SBC was the weekly combined chapel. I can’t remember exactly why I was there (I wasn’t a student yet nor was I intending to go to seminary then), but I remember feeling as though I had caught a glimpse of what the new creation would look like.
The tempo of the hymn was appropriate and I didn’t find myself mouthing off words in a rush, the music was played by only a piano but with excellence that lead the congregation, and the song leader incorporated elements of different nations into the hymn. Two main languages were used — English and Mandarin at the same time — yet everyone sang with such conviction and gusto that the different languages still resounded as one. Different faces, different skin colours, different backgrounds… But they were one Body of Christ worshipping the same God in one voice.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
(Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

When I joined SBC itself, the experience became enriched as I actually got to fellowship with the people in the community. Singing together took on a new meaning, as I worshipped God in song surrounded by people whom I knew and love. Songs were mostly carefully chosen and appropriately arranged to reflect the creativity of our Creator God — there was space created for joyful noises and deep lament, for voices by different tribes on top of the lingua franca, and for humans created in God’s image to express themselves and bless others with the gifts of the Giver.

One year after graduating, I greedily lapped up this precious time of refreshing, to join the mighty chorus in a tongue I was comfortable with, and also rejoice in the inauguration of our new principal — a family friend who once carried me as a kid and a scholar-pastor whom is a huge source of inspiration.

The theology of corporate worship is duly needed in our churches today, where the understanding of worship is becoming a personal and consumerist entity — an antithesis of who we are created to Be and Do as worshippers and image-bearers of our Triune God. That said, I deeply appreciate the School of Church Music’s continuous efforts to appropriate music in worship theology. I truly pray we don’t lose sight of good theology and its place in worship. Lord have mercy.

Monday, 11 July 2016

事实而守

我的神啊 祢在哪儿
这黑夜里我泪当饭吃
不能和他人相聚
不能一起敬拜祢
看不见在世上生存的意义

失控 波动 洪涛波浪汹涌
时空 恶梦  环绕在脑海中
这个不能平复的心情
继承世界边缘的呻吟
生命 掌控 谁手中

我的心啊 你为何忧愁
为何在我里面不安
上帝我在等候祢
等侯祢来救助我
让击碎的骨头再次升起

失控 波动 洪涛波浪汹涌
时空 恶梦  环绕在脑海中
这个不能平复的心情
继承世界边缘的呻吟
生命 掌控 谁手中

溪水边渴慕的鹿
终于会死谁手?
守在它身边的磐石
是否能转变事实?

失控 波动 洪涛波浪汹涌
时空 恶梦  环绕在脑海中
这个不能平复的心情
继承世界边缘的呻吟
胜利 已在 祢手中

始终 有祢 陪我走