In a post last week, I shared some thoughts about desire, which we prompted by my reading of the introduction to Jamie Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Smith was basically advocating that education is not simply about ‘passing on information’, but about forming people holistically – in body, spirit and mind.
And I would add that the word education might put us off a little bit. Too many connect it to something like university studies. This is why a word like formation might serve us better.
However, trying to simply pass on information will never be enough. There is more. But why do we approach education (or formation) like this. Maybe it’s due to the fact that we easily see ourselves as thinking things, or mainly thinking things. Of course, the Christian believes we are more than the mind (or the brain). However, our formation of people – through the sermon, Sunday School, Christian education, etc – is normally done through the dispensing of information. Let me tell you what this Scripture says and how to apply it to life.
This is why Smith introduces words like desire and liturgy in regards to forming actual human beings designed for God and the kingdom rule of God.
Of course, the word desire is not problematic for westerners, though desire might normally be connected with what makes us happy in the moment (even if those happy moments seem very spiritual).
Still, for many, the concept of liturgy causes all types of problems. Liturgy is rote and boring tradition!
But what we might not realise is that liturgy is part and parcel for every community/person. From the most traditional of Christian settings to the most informal, liturgy is all around us. Walk in to a Pentecostal church and there is a type of order-liturgy to the service. Maybe not as strict as say that of Roman Catholics or Presbyterians. But it’s there – the songs come at the same point (the beginning), the singing in tongues and prophecies at the usual slot (maybe between song 2 and 3), the announcements, the communion, the sermon, etc. All of this follows a typical order.
I say this knowing I am part of an evangelical charismatic tradition that might be seen as non-liturgical. Yet, barring something major, our gatherings flow in a very similar format each week. And that is ok. It really is – for Presbyterians or Methodists or charismatics. Tradition and liturgy are not bad, unless they are binding.
Also, I noted how liturgy involves the use of our senses in worship. Through song, eucharist-communion, teaching, conversation, spoken and responsive prayer, quiet prayer, baptism and anointing with oil we involve all 5 of our senses in worship – hearing, speaking (or singing), touching, tasting, even smelling.
And so our worship, our liturgy, our forming of the Christian community, goes well beyond the communication of information and ideas. We have a whole host of gifts from God to speak to us as whole human beings. God created all and all is to be utilised in our worship and service to God and one another. And this draws us deeply into the work and purpose of God.
But reading a bit more into Smith’s book, I thought I might share some other words that connect to this idea of desire and liturgy being utilised in forming us in the ways of God. Smith goes on to say:
The liturgy is a “hearts and minds” strategy, a pedagogy [teaching method] that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and aim our love toward the kingdom of God. Before we articulate a worldview, we worship. Before we put into words the lineaments of an ontology or an epistemology, we pray for God’s healing and illumination. Before we theorize the nature of God, we sing his praises. Before we express moral principles, we receive forgiveness. Before we codify the doctrine of Christs two natures, we receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist [communion]. Before we think, we pray. That’s the kind of animals we are, first and foremost: loving, desiring, affective, liturgical animals who, for the most part, don’t inhabit the world as thinkers or cognitive machines. (loc 546, emphasis mine)
How do we get a hold of the hearts of Christ’s followers and direct our love towards the kingdom rule of God?
That’s the big question for Smith – and probably should be for us as well.
He offers that we are called to participate in all of the practical opportunities presented to us. Putting flesh on our conceptual ideas, which will in turn help form our theology. It’s orthopraxy (proper practice) and orthodoxy (proper worship/belief). They work together very well.
Worship. Prayer. Praise. Receiving forgiveness. Bread and wine.
There’s a part of me that longs to participate in the sharing of the eucharist whenever we gather together. All senses are utilised in this one act of worship.
And don’t get too put off by Smith’s use of the word ‘animals’ in the quote above. He’s not trying to get tied up into any denotation of science about ‘what are humans?’. This is shown by his qualification that we are loving, desiring, affective, liturgical, worshipping animals – not simply brain-thinking machines.
Something runs deeper. Something touches our desires, our worship.
He goes on to share more:
We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends. (loc 618, emphasis mine)
Yes! Practices of worship that take hold of what is deep within us, drawing it out towards the ultimate – God and his kingdom.
I’m still learning how to do this. And I’d remind us that this goes well beyond PowerPoint presentations and snazzy music on Sunday mornings. It’s beyond smoke machines and a team of musicians that sound like Jesus Culture. I even ponder how to do this as I teach business English to Belgians. How can I stir interest towards the eternal through learning English in a business context? To say it’s a challenge is an understatement. But I’m enjoying the challenge as I read Smith’s work.
Not just information, but formation. Not just documents, but desire. Not just words, but worship.
Eternity lies within the hearts of humans.
It’s time to draw it out.