Friday, November 18, 2005

Griffiss' "The Anglican Vision," Ch. 6: Anglican Worship

"Worship arises out of a fundamental characteristic of what it is to be human," (88) i.e. out of our nature as human. We need to ask "Why?" and look for answers; it is not an option for us. But while we can give answers to some why-questions of a mundane sort (e.g. Why does it rain?), there is another sort of why-question, of the "ultimate question" variety, which we cannot answer given our ordinary explanatory procedures: Why are we here? What is the meaning of our lives?

Replying to such ultimate why-questions, we may tell stories. This storytelling takes up our past history and weaves it into "a drama bigger than ourselves" so that "we may understand ourselves as part of a larger story about hope and redemption...." (89) Storytelling replies are not explanations answering ultimate why-questions; that is not their aim. Rather, the aim is a fecund contextualization: the very act of weaving such a story yields a measure of the ultimate meaning we crave in asking ultimate why-questions.

Our story, into which we are woven via baptism, is one in which "God acts in Jesus Christ to save, to bring us from death to life." (90) Our storytelling consists not merely of words, but also of ritual action, action that cannot be reduced to words, but carries significance beyond what words can express in our dogmatic propositional formulations.

This combination of word and deed, our liturgy, is taken up by God who is present among us as the faithful Word. That is, our "stumbling" liturgy is transformed into "God's Word to us" (92) producing meaning for us in our "shattered" world. With God's Word as a foundation for our ultimate meaning, life emerges for us from death: we are able to live on in hope. This movement, taken as a whole--liturgy/transformation/meaning/hope, say--constitutes us as a "sacramental community," a spatio-temporal human community in which Christ is present. Thus, when we are baptized, "[w]e are baptized into Christ, not...into the Episcopal Church." (93) We continue our liturgy with the Eucharist, work that makes "the Incarnation concrete in our lives" (94) rather than just an oddity of history.

Liturgical practice primarily aims to yield belief in God rather than belief about God--propositional dogma is not the primary concern. That is, liturgy gradually--over time--brings us around to an awareness of God's genuine presence in our lives, over against false pictures of God that may have gripped us in the past; liturgy brings us gradually to a personal relationship with God. This relationship is something "more certain" than mere propositional dogma. I.e. even if the dogma is false, the relationship may persist.

But liturgical practice makes great demands on practitioners; participating takes courage. And not only the courage of taking a risk on the unknown, but also courage to lay down one's life to God. A sense of our sinfulness necessarily goes with our growing personal relationship with Christ--not sin merely in the sense of "simply breaking a rule or a law," but rather "sin involved the breaking of a relationship; it was a failure in love." (95) Forgiveness requires repentence, i.e. being taken up and transformed by Christ--a kind of death of the old sinful self symbolized in baptism and the Eucharist, where we are "there on the altar being transformed in the eucharistic prayer" (97). That is, the elements are taken from the produce of our being in the world; on the altar Christ can become incarnate in them, as in us, making them not just bread and wine but something more, something transformed: Christ in us, going out into the world to do his work.

I think, by implication, Christ is to infect all we do; all we do--not just what we do in Church--becomes a liturgy of worship: not just mundane activity but activity in which God is incarnate via Christ in us.

Christ's presence with us, in our lives, is not merely personal. I have a personal relationship with God on account of my being brought into the church community, so that its story contextualizes my life, giving my life ultimate meaning.

Nor does Christ's presence in our liturgy have correct, final propositional dogma as a prerequisite. Storytelling meaning is not final--it awaits finalization by action on God's part. For us to finalize storytelling meaning is for us to usurp God's role, and we are guaranteed to come up short. We are not writing the cosmic drama; we are not its Author. How dare we even attempt to provide a final context?

Proper liturgy requires open-ended storytelling and ritual, actions whose meaning is not finalized for us by our efforts in the way of propositional formulation. In short, we cannot tell ahead of time where liturgy will push us; Christ in baptism and the eucharist may be received in such a way as to surprise or even threaten us. Remember--as we grow in relationship with God, we repent. The repentence is not in despair, as we have faith in God's power to transform, but rather in accepting and acting of God's critique of us, who we are becoming and what we do and believe.


At 8:53 PM, Blogger Closed said...


This is excellent. As I've theologized a few posts back, G-d is the one who pulls us into the public divine service and it is an ongoing work that we cannot finalize, as you rightly suggest from Griffiss' work. Our liturgical life is the foundation for epistemic humility as well as dogma as doxa as I noted my post on the Holy Trinity.

At 12:30 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks *christopher. I just wish more Episcopalians were familiar with Griffiss. So, are you doing an MDiv?

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Closed said...


No. I'm working on my comps for Ph.D. work in liturgy and Church history. But I have "done" and MDiv. Ordination was not my calling, but the work was invaluable in how I do theology.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Closed said...


No. I'm working on my comps for Ph.D. work in liturgy and Church history. But I have "done" and MDiv. Ordination was not my calling, but the work was invaluable in how I do theology.

At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Griffiss rocks! :-D

In my diocesan discernment group, we were assigned Griffiss and Richard Giles' Always Open. It seemed most everyone else luvvvved the (snarky) Giles: the withering Brit wit in action.

. . . but I, often recalling why we Let-Your-Yes-Be-'Yes' Yanks by 1776 had had enough w/ Brit 'tudes in the first place, preferred the honest, irenic, earnest and truly open Griffiss. In The Anglican Vision I saw the simple faith which gets me through the day . . . and changes the world.

God be praised for your saints, inc. James Griffiss! :-)


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