Friday, August 13, 2010

A Quick Synopsis of Letter 1

Alright, I like this first letter a lot. Here is my brief summary of the contents, and I think I'll post a few questions later that I had while reading...

The topic of Lewis's first letter to Malcolm is revealed straightaway and explicitly in the 3rd paragraph. There is apparently no subject, other than sport, on which Lewis has less to say than "liturgiology." He decides to dispose of the little that he does have to say on this subject (liturgiology, not sport) in this 1st letter.

The letter from thereon can be broken into two related subjects.
I suggest the following basic outline:
  1. Change in the liturgy, broadly construed (p. 4 - top of p. 6). In this section, Lewis shares his thoughts on whether the actual shape, contents, order, etc. of the liturgy ought to be changed.

  2. Change in the liturgy, "in the narrower sense" (top of p. 6 - p. 8). Here, Lewis reflects on the actual language of the Liturgy and the unavoidably changing nature of a vernacular liturgy.
Regarding 1., Lewis comes across as defending a "conservatism" in the light of his reflections on the purpose of the Church service. One does not go to church in order to be entertained, but rather to enact a "structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore." Whereas entertainment is best achieved when one's attention never leaves the performance itself, the attention in a church service is meant to be on God (not on the performance -- i.e., the service -- itself). In other words, one goes to church specifically not to think about the service but rather to bless and be blessed by God through the service. The service is to be the medium, not the focal point. Changes to the shape, contents, order, etc. of the liturgy have the effect of placing people's attention on the service -- or worse, on the celebrant. The upshot is that the liturgy of the church service ought not to change. As Lewis says it, "I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put."

On 2., Lewis is quite in favor of change and here his motivation comes from the philosophy of language: "If you have a vernacular liturgy you must have a changing liturgy: otherwise it will be vernacular only in name." There is no such thing as a changeless language -- "you might as well ask for a motionless river." So, insofar as the language of the liturgy is supposed to be the language of the people, the language of the liturgy must change over time. So, here Lewis favors change -- albeit change that comes very slowly and with caution. In the remainder of the letter, Lewis gives some words of caution for how one ought to proceed in changing the language of the liturgy.

- jns

5 comments:

Jordan and Rochelle said...

Well summarized. Not only by Jonah of Lewis, but also by Lewis of liturgy. He does a good job of working steadily and calmly through these two issues.

I enjoyed the first part the most. Particularly the section that reads, “As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance…The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”

Lewis makes some good points regarding novelty in service as distraction from worship.

And finally, who is Rose Macaulay?

Ed said...

Thank you, Jordan - and you have put your finger on the heart of this first letter of Lewis when you note his concern that he would have our attention on God.
Rose Macaulay: English novelist, essayist and writer (1881–1958). Her last and most acclaimed novel was autobiographical, dealing with the conflict in her 30-year affair with a priest and Christianity - to which she converted in the last years of her life.
In mentioning her, Lewis is preparing us for his next letter where he will talk specifically about her prayers.
I am going to suggest shortly that Lewis does, in fact, have a subject in this first letter, and that it is prayer.
The "Nederlander Notes" at bottom right (Supporting Links) will help on some of Lewis' material that is less obvious.

Ed said...

Muy bueno, Mis Amigos! There is a broader unchanging content, and a narrower language of liturgy.

But I wonder; does Lewis really turn from Malcolm’s request to discuss prayer to focus mainly on liturgiology?

Prayer has been ‘a good deal in (his) mind’. And Malcolm is his inner voice. He is wrestling.
Prayer must be personal, private. He wants nothing to do with liturgiology – liturgy for its own sake.

Liturgy is not a soliloquy; it’s all about conversation. That is easily forgotten.

Every succeeding point Lewis makes about liturgy indicates how every facet of liturgy is ‘conversation with God’. It's all about prayer.

Observe the worship life of a community or individual and you see their prayer life exposed.

Innovations can be highly exclusive, comparative and hyper-critical of the things that resist change.

The things that are most permanent are the very things that most resist change.

If conversation with God is merely about innovation, it’s inevitably superficial at best.

There must be some familiarity in the conversation of friends. But we struggle to value the familiar.

We have much to learn and gain from tradition.

Yet tradition itself is a living, not a static thing. How does it live?

Innovation is often merely a reaction to tradition mistaken as fossilization; which ends up as another tradition.

Thomas Merton said, ‘The only real Catholic tradition is the Living Inner Current of Divine Life.’

As a Roman Catholic he is right, though in a severe minority; or in a minority before a severe liturgiology.

Gradual imperceptible change is God’s way of working. That’s how the River of Life moves through history.

God is frustratingly oblivious to the suggestions of Madison Avenue. See John 7:1-5.

But the concerns for freshness in meaning are worthy of consideration, even vital!

For the Church does change. She is becoming more perfect, more radiant, more like Him.

‘Behold, I make all things new!’ How?

How are we carried along in His painstaking transformation without falling prey to fossilization or innovation?

Lewis sees just two things that signal the moment is right for the inevitable Work of God in change.

Neither is about liturgiology. Both things Lewis sees have to do with prayer. Everything depends on prayer.

The first is the Church speaking with a united voice.

The second is a ‘clear presence in the Church’ leading the conversation that God initiates in us called prayer.

To be a part of His Work that is continually New and Ancient, what we most need is a genuine life of prayer.

And for Lewis, prayer is intensely personal: a vital, living conversation: God in conversation with himself in us.

Joanna Kay said...

I am so glad we are doing this because everyone is catching things that I didn't necessarily focus on but am so glad that were brought to light.

"I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it." (pg.11)

To me it reminds me to not focus on what others have but what we are given. It also melts in with Lewis' topic of our focus in liturgy.

If we are truly gazing at God and focusing our attention on Him (as Jordan pointed out), then we won't even notice what other laymen have been given but will be so honored at what we have, even if it be a bean, that we will WANT to make the most of it instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Focusing our attention on God as the roots of our tree of life will bear fruit in so many aspects of our life that we may not even be aware of until we are focused on Him... and then, we will not even be aware of our own fruit because we will be enamored with Him.

Cyclical in the very best kind of way.

Ed said...

Absolutely, Jo.

How I need to hear and remember that simple message of focusing on God and doing what He enables me to do.

It's not about what we do anyway.

It's really about what He does in us.