Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

I spent part of this morning singing the Vittoria "Improperia" in a quartet of wonderful singers in our Seminary chapel. This series of reproaches for what was done to Christ this day alternates lines of chant with brief choral settings of the Trisagion and the Populi Mei. Performing a piece like this is very intense - no room for error, though some minor twitches are inevitable. We sang from the balcony, and it was good, twitches and all.

It causes me to meditate a bit on the "performance" nature of what we do as clergy, especially in an emotionally fraught time such as Holy Week. I suspect all of us have a bit of the performer in us; why else would we participate in such work? Yes, yes, I know it's not about the performance, but to some extent we must be aware of that aspect, to preside over a service that gives the most to those who attend.

I think of my one of my profs, who struggles with a terrible stammer, but when he lectures and preaches, he prepares intensely, and delivers his words smoothly and beautifully. Is that a form of performance? Perhaps.

Can we create meaningful worship without an awareness of this element? I'd like to believe that we can be inspired by God's Word and that will carry it through. I've been to an awful lot of uninspired services, though. Was the presider uninspired, or was the preparation inadequate? In contrast, I've been to some over-emoted, painfully self-conscious services. Where is the middle ground?

How much do we get by tapping into our hearts and souls, and how much is preparatory work that recognizes the need for performance in the celebration of God's word?

Just asking...

3 comments:

E Felicetti said...

I wondered about this as well this week, when a renowned preacher preached at our chapel on Wednesday. He had us spellbound for 31 minutes, and I thought he seemed was very attuned to performance issues; and it made me worry that my sermons sound too much like lectures, that I hold back too much because I fear sounding "over-the-top"/inauthentic...but I do feel these things so passionately. ACK! :-)

Rev Dr Mom said...

Interesting thoughts. I haven't thought of myself as a performer but I am VERY aware of liturgical details and how much they matter. Part of that came from my liturgics professor who talked a lot about the sign value of liturgical action and some of it comes from my own experiences.

I am also far more aware of how I use my body in worship than I used to be. I stand a certain way and hold my hands a certain way because that works for me...but I am also aware of how I present myself to the congregation. It's not about me, but the fact that I'm a priest means that I stand in front of them when I worship.

Lots more to think about here.

mibi52 said...

E (hey, girl, what a pleasant surprise to see you here!), I do think we have to find our own voices. If you or I tried to preach like the one of whom you speak, it would just sound ridiculous. I think quiet intensity can be just as compelling as shaking the pulpit hollering. And neither you nor I have that kind of marvelous basso profundo voice, a real preaching instrument. Darn.

RDM, many years ago, when I gave seminars in software engineering methodologies (another lifetime ago), we were put through a presentation training program. They videotaped us and were very strict about extraneous gestures. I think there's a value to watching how you do things - it's so easy to develop physical gestures that become tics of a sort, and they distract from the message. In my observation, some of the most beautiful "manual acts" are small and deliberate gestures that clearly have a theological intent behind them. I'm thinking of one of my profs, who during the anamnesis, starts with her hands crossed over the bread ("sanctify them by your Holy Spirit.."), then crosses her hands over her breast ("sanctify us also..."), then uncrosses them and lifts them up ("...and at the last day, bring us with all your saints..."). Thoughtful, graceful, theologically informed and informing. And it seems very much her and who she is.

In contrast, a priest I know does the triple cross of the bread over the wine in the eucharistic prayer, and he does it so fast it seems like "Abracadabra" rather than a gesture of sanctification. Putting aside the question of whether this manual act is extraneous (as Michno suggests), it just looks too darned busy the way he does it.

Is this performance, or is this the use of ritual cues to enlighten those who participate (pace Mircea Eliade)? Maybe both? I'm still thinking this out...