Friday, March 12, 2010

Stromateis Liturgica for 12 March 2010: The Spirituality of the Presider

For this week’s Stromateis I am offering some excerpts from Liturgy 22, no. 2 (April-June 2007), an issue that focuses on ‘The Spirituality of the Presider’. In a climate that tends to encourage liturgical leadership to look for new techniques or even gimmicks to ‘bring people in’, this issue of Liturgy suggests that we need to look to ourselves, those of us who preside, lay and ordained, to discover how we might offer leadership that enables “. . . active receptivity to the divine self-communication possible” (to quote Don Saliers).

The writers span a variety of traditions. All their titles are those as of the date of publication:

• Siobhan Garrigan, Assistant Professor of Liturgical Studies at Yale Divinity School
• Thomas Scirghi, Associate Professor of Liturgy at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley
• Dirk Lange, Assistant Professor of the Christian Assembly at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
• Daniel Benedict, former Director of Worship Resources for The United Methodist Church in the United States
• Don Saliers, Wm. R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship at Candler School of Theology

I hope that these excerpts lead you to explore the articles as well as reflect on your own leadership of the Christian assembly.

Siobhan Garrigan, “The Spirituality of Presiding,” 3-8

“I would like to say that the only thing you need to preside is that you must (1) pray without ceasing and (2) love your people the best you can; but now that I have been teaching it for a little while and my heart has broken to see the struggles of my students, I know it is not so simple. Presiders need to be adept at a multitude of bodily techniques, and they need to possess paradoxical capabilities: passion and stamina, patience and quick-wittedness, vulnerability and a thick skin. And, for their own good and that of the people they serve, they need to have a healthy spirituality of presiding. This does not mean presiders have to be perfect. . . . But it does mean that they have to be very careful, adept at discerning the work of the spirit, and adept at knowing the limits of both their capabilities and their responsibilities.” (Garrigan 2007, 3)

“While presiders have much in common with artists, there are at least two important differences. First, presiders form a relationship with people over time whereas performers might only encounter their audience only once. . . . Secondly, unlike art, presiding is always about God and our relationship with God.” (Garrigan 2007, 3)

“The spirituality of presiding is, I think, all in your voice. Your tone, words, cadence, timing, timbre, your sounds, your voice’s pauses and silences --- all conspire to make your voice the most versatile and powerful tool you have to lead others. Be loud and hectoring and you’ll scare. Be soft and supple and you’ll entice. Use too many clever words and you’ll block. Use too much ‘preacher voice’ and they won’t believe you. Add no jazz at all and the words fall flat. You proclaim, invite, dedicate, pray, teach, sing, lead, chant, dream, lament, challenge, cry --- and all with your voice. You do not do all these things with your hands. Your hands could be tied behind your back for most of them.” (Garrigan 2007, 4)

Thomas J. Scirghi, “An Iconic View of Communal Worship,” 9-16

“One simple rule I follow with my class is that, for presiders, if the congregation notices you more than the One to whom they are praying, then you have failed. Likewise, for preachers, if the congregation remembers the preacher more than the Gospel message, then something is wrong.” (Scirghi 2007, 9)

“The habitus of the liturgy is the formation of the members of the assembly into a communion.” (Scirghi 2007, 10)

“To be a prayerful person means to cultivate the habitus by which one receives and responds to the world through the context of a faith-filled personal relationship with God.” (Scirghi 2007, 11)

“A good leader of prayer stands before the congregation like an icon. To pray the liturgy means to lead the people in prayer without calling undue attention to oneself, but enabling the congregation to focus on the divine. This is not to say that the ordained minister is the only one capable of providing a window onto the divine realm. On the contrary, the congregation holds many holy people who provide this ability. But within the context of the liturgy the ordained minister is the one chosen to help the community focus together.” (Scirghi 2007, 13)

RGL+ NOTE: For ‘ordained minister' in the quotation above from Scirghi, I suggest that one may read ‘liturgical presider’.

Dirk G. Lange, “Presiding: A Lutheran Reversal,” 17-25

“Both the confessional documents and the current practices statements on word and sacrament clearly indicate that the presider is not a lone ranger performing, up at the front, in some sacred space, behind the altar rail, in an area called the chancel. The pastor’s calling to office possesses no spiritual superiority. . . . But in the solidarity where all divisions of sacred and profaned are reformulated, the pastor is called as a public witness of that baptismal transfiguration. . . . The presider is not a mediator between God and the people. The presider is not the reincarnation of the ancient priest who alone could enter [20] the holy of holies and offer the necessary sacrifices. Nor is the presider the popular television game host or entertainer, though many people come to church expecting and subsequently judging the presider on his or her performance skills. . . . The presider is none of these: not mediator, not ancient/sacred priest, not entertainer or dispenser of heavenly wisdom. The presider is witness --- witness to a baptismal reality already present in the assembly though perhaps not known. The presider is witness to the cross, to the death and life of Jesus Christ, to the daily dying and rising of every member of the assembly and of the community.” (Lange 2007, 19-20)

Daniel T. Benedict, Jr., “No Cowardly Spirit: Teaching Pastors and Priests to Preside,” 27-34

“. . . (Presiding) is more than performance technique. It has everything to do with the sense of identity; who ‘I’ am with and before God and the people assembled around font, lectern, and table. It has to do with living the rite; taking it within one’s self and so praying it that one’s spirit is shaped to its contours and vision.” (Benedict 2007, 28)

Don E. Saliers, “Sense, Spirit, and Body in Presiding: A Synaesthetic Environment,” 35-40

“Seeing various features of the public worship of God as a kind of visual theology is an important clue for those who lead the liturgical assembly. A strong normative point emerges here. The texts we proclaim and lead in the praying of the Christian assembly require more than words; they elicit an interanimation of the senses. Not only are they enactments of the mystery we believe the rites signify, but also they contain a rich array of clues for the spirit of the presider as well as for the active receptivity of the worshipers. When those who preside understand that liturgy provides a potentially common way of ‘seeing the world and the mystery at its heart,’ it will change attentiveness and the spirit of both liturgists and the assembly.” (Saliers 2007, 36)

“We must . . . more beyond the primary senses of seeing and hearing the texts. Good presiding requires what may be called a capacity for synaesthetic awakening. This refers to the way in which two or more human senses are drawn together in a single act of perception. By and large many who lead worship are not aware of how crucial the non-verbal elements of liturgy are to the meaning and point of the words we use. So many of our liturgies, especially Protestant, have become overly verbal --- more ‘talk fests’ than participation in grace-filled common action. . . . The point [37] of effective presiding is to allow the ears of the assembly to see, and the eyes of the assembly to hear. Even more to the point, a sensitive presider helps to create the conditions for the interanimation of movement, gesture, touch, eating, and drink, and the words spoken and sung, making active receptivity to the divine self-communication possible.” (Saliers 2007, 36-37)

“Those who lead must listen to the joy and the sorrow of the assembly, to bring such pastoral radar to the place of prayer, proclamation, and the table of Eucharist. . . . [The] presider must listen for signs of the rule and reign of God, with its justice and its peace --- that kingdom which is an alternative to the captivities of culture. Moreover, the presider must listen to and for the artistic dimensions of liturgy. . . . Thus the spirituality of the presider must be forged in the discipline of listening: to the Word made flesh, to people’s lives, to prophecy, and to the arts. These all converge when vital and faithful liturgy occurs.” (Saliers 2007, 38)

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Wonderful, prayerful words. Thank you.