Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"Free Communion": Sacraments and the Secular

I'd venture a guess that most people who would even bother glancing at this site know that the word liturgy (from the Greek leitourgia, meaning "public service") is often translated "the work of the people." So to name a collective of Christian artists, musicians and filmmakers who design provocative and compelling resources for use in Christian worship "The Work Of The People" strikes me as both clever and appropriate - maybe even a little ironic in a postmodern sort of way, considering that their hip, audio-visually oriented work is clearly involved in reimagining what liturgy might mean in a postmodern world. It's not just old-school smells and bells for these cats, although I'm sure they wouldn't at all object to a little sandalwood incense.

Anyway, this video was brought to my attention by Doug Gay, our lecturer in practical theology at my university (who himself co-wrote an interesting little book called Alternative Worship, which is worth a look). The soundtrack is "To Rescue Me," by seminal Christian alternative band The Choir. Derri Daugherty, whose voice you hear, and whose chorus-y guitar sounds comprise the track, engineered and co-produced a record I had the, um, privilege of making long ago (in a past life, one might even say).

But song aside, I wonder what others think about the video. Take 3 1/2 minutes and watch it, mull it over, let us know what you think. By way of a description, it's a simple concept, really: a guy goes out to various "secular" locations (a mall food court, a busy intersection, a sidewalk, a Burger King parking lot), sets up a card table with a chalice full of grape juice (appears to be of the unfermented variety) and a loaf of bread, puts out a sign reading simply "Communion"...and then he just sits there and waits. People come and go, a few pause curiously before going on their way, one finally partakes.

We could, and perhaps should, get into a deep discussion about the idea and the implications of taking the Eucharist to people on the streets in this way; whether the Eucharist outwith the Church in this fashion is a good or a dangerous idea; about who is and is not eligible to receive, or indeed administer, the Eucharist, which picks up a conversation that has been ongoing here and there on this blog for many weeks; and it begs the question, perhaps, of whether the gesture depicted should be considered Eucharist or Communion at all, at least in any proper sense.

What strikes me as perhaps most compelling about this video is the way the guy just...waits - does nothing and waits for someone to come and commune with him. Maybe this resonates with me because of my recent reading of Jean-Yves Lacoste's phenomenological study of liturgy, Experience and the Absolute (Fordham UP, 2004), which in part understands the liturgy in terms of waiting, according to the logic of the vigil. Some quotes from Lacoste:

"...liturgy is not a work (œuvre): it produces nothing that could possibly be handled, admired, sold, or given. It is utterly foreign to the logic of action." (p. 78)

"Liturgy is the absence of work (œuvre)." (p. 79)

"...the nonutility of praise must not be interpreted uselessness but as a beyond-to-utility." (p. 80)

"...the kairos of liturgy comes, as night follows day, after we have completed our duties...We pray between acts. But the vigil prolongs this entr'acte. The day, which will return us to the care of things secular, is still far off. We do not have to account for the time we gain to devote to praise. And yet this very much amounts to saying that liturgy appears here as a surplus...Liturgy is not, in the strict sense, necessary." (p. 81)

"Liturgy is inoperativity (désœuvrement)...Because it concerns itself with a presence while hoping for a beyond-to-presence, and because it hopes as one hopes for a gift rather than for the payment of a debt, its expectation must reckon with the possibility of perpetual frustration...Thus, for consciousness, if we must speak of it, patience is a major liturgical virtue. The patient consciousness knows that its attentiveness and expectation give it no hold over God. It is a confession of powerlessness." (p. 91)

Tom Petty once sang "The waiting is the hardest part." I think he was probably right, and no waiting is harder than waiting on the Absolute, the wholly Other, that which we call in the absence of a better name "God." But if we believe that God really "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14)...if we believe in a Jesus who identifies himself explicitly with those who appear in and to the world as "the least of these," toward whom our service or our denial is commensurate with service to or denial of Jesus himself...if, following Jewish thinkers like Buber and Levinas and Christian thinkers like Bonhoeffer and Zizioulas, we believe that our personhood, our very Being, is constituted in our encounter with the face of the not the waiting and the eventual-though-fleeting Communion depicted in this video as authentic an expression as any?

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