Friday, April 13, 2012

The splendor of truth... truth and beauty...

In a conversation with my family an incident came up regarding a host dropped during the distribution and the instinctive reaction of the Pastor to pick it up and consume it.  The conversation we had was about the visual that accompanies the intellectual, how, in this case, the doctrine of the Real Presence is both reflected and taught in the simple devotion of picking up the host and consuming it without fanfare or even a second thought.  What was clear, however, is that we are not accustomed to practice that both illuminates and reflects dogma.  We have grown used to the idea that doctrine or teaching is a matter of the mind or intellect and that this is a higher plane than visual image or practice.

As we talked I saw in my own mind how I had grown up with this idea but at some point had come to a different conclusion.  Truth (meaning THE truth of Christ, the Word, the Gospel) is filled with splendor and beauty but this truth is not simply nor is it only a reflection of reason or the intellect.  This truth intersects the senses on the level of visual beauty, the beauty of music, and the beauty of ritual that both flows from and points to what is believed, confessed, and taught.

God does not merely engage us on the level of the heart or the mind.  It is both.  Faith is passion and desire planted by the Spirit and directed by the Spirit but it is accompanied by knowledge and understanding.  Neither desire nor reason is or can be alone.  They are both engaged by the Spirit and turned by the Spirit to the central focus of the mystery of God which is revealed to us in the incarnation and the grace of God which is made known to us in the cross.

I am probably rambling here.  I often do.  But what I am suggesting is that at some point in time Lutherans saw the intersection of this truth both in the intellect and in the heart as it was expressed in the great art of music and imagery.  Early Lutheranism truly unleashed a flood of art in the richly painted and polychromed altar pieces and in the musical genuis which saw its zenith in J. S. Bach.  This was not merely ornamental but part of both the confession of the truth in theology and its practice in the flourishing liturgical life of the Divine Service.  At some point in time, there became a disconnect between the arts and the intellect.  We Lutherans retained a high view of education, teaching, and theology (both academic and parish centered) but backed away from the idea that faithful practice and the visual and aural contribution of the arts were implicit in this and inseparably joined.

We began to build plain Jane buildings and to restrict the ceremonial of the liturgy to the minimum required.  We became more content in the black robe from Geneva than the historic vesture of the Church.  We treated hymns as if they were merely ornamental and not truly confessional, a matter of personal taste in which they were mostly equal in quality.  We became utilitarian and decided that pipe organs were too costly and so the Church that produced Bach found itself unable to utilize Bach's music in the Divine Service.  We turned choirs from their primary role as leaders of the congregational song and gave them a ministry which was only slightly different from Methodism and its parade of the choir up front to perform for the enjoyment of the folks in the pew.  We became suspicious of the arts, suspicious of the passion that was always meant to accompany the transformation of the mind.  We became moderate not in the sense of balance but in justification of restraint and the reigning in of those who paid excessive attention to these other things.

The beauty of truth became only an intellectual beauty and the splendor of truth was more a matter of how we answered every question and resolved every conflict.  Theology became more systematic and less Biblical and preaching came to be seen as more oratory than kerygma.  We were always suspicious of that which was only emotion but at some point we became suspicious of all emotion.  The faces of our folks coming down from the communion rail looked more pained than they did going up and joy was more theoretical than practical. Now we find ourselves searching for a replacement for the dull cerebral exercise we have called worship and instead of reaching into our rich past, we have looked over the fence to borrow from the evangelicals who have borrowed from the secular culture to find out that which gets folks excited.

Truth is splendor because it is Christ and His grace.  It is mystery because it is not rational or reasonable but always the surprise of a glory revealed more on a cross than a mountain top.  It is beauty because the internal sight of the Gospel is and has always found external expression in the arts (visual arts, music, architecture, and ceremony/ritual).  But alas, some of us are so fearful of going there that we find even the most natural expression of a doctrine like the Real Presence uncomfortable when it is expressed in the very instinctive act of picking up and consuming a dropped host.

Yes, I know... I am rambling... but this rambling helps me to understand why some folks are so deeply suspicious of me or of a Lutheranism that reflects faithful and historic practice as well as theory.  Every now and then I need to remind myself of this both in order to understand those who sit in the pews and to better understand how I need to preach and teach in such a way that we leave behind these self-imposed blinders and bindings....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does this "disconnect" between intellectual assent and real life practice also account for our problems with sanctification? --Bill H.