Thursday, October 6, 2005

Fragments of Postmodern Liturgy II

Penta + Caustic = Pentacaustic

Penta, of course, means “five” and “caustic” literally means “to cause a burning or stinging sensation, as from intense emotion.[i]” Pentacaust, then, is my label for multi-sensory worship; worship that intensely involves the five senses. I coin this term because I want to conjure images of Pentecostal worship, exuberant and lively, while pressing the need for something that goes beyond sight and sound. I want to remember a world of fire and freedom in musical expressions of worship, but observe the unfolding of a world that burns my hands and mouth and nose as well.

Pentacaust has been a significant part of our church history, with Orthodox and Episcopalian churches leading the traditional fore and making space for some of the emergent gatherings now seen in Southern California and the UK. Spiritual disciplines like lectio divina and spiritual props like rosary beads, incense, and prayer candles, are just some of the ways in which other senses have been engaged; but, pentacaust has been sidelined in popular circles for the last few hundred years, and I want it back.

Nor am I alone. One of the greatest longings I have consistently seen in the postmodern culture in my years of collegiate ministry – especially among charismatics – is the hunger for traditional, liturgical elements of worship. To be sure, they want it in a new way – but the lust for sacred space, art, and the heaviness of our ancient faith exists all the same. Tattoos of crucifixes and spray paint madonnas are not so rare in our new world.[ii]

Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church and noted author on the subject of multi-sensory worship, contends that the scriptures even present a “mutli-sensory, mutli-dimensional Word,[iii]” citing the opening of John’s gospel and the Incarnation. Likewise, Kimball lists the use of incense, the laying on of hands, communion, singing, and the art in the temple as examples of a multi-sensory approach to worship within the cannon.

While pentacaust satisfies the liturgical longings within many believers, it also returns us to Gardener’s theories of multiple intelligences and differing learning styles. Because some people are kinetic learners, a tactile approach to worship will enable them to encounter God on familiar ground.[iv] After all, almost every other area of our pop culture is shattering distinctions between kinds of art and mixing mediums haphazardly. As a result, we find ourselves dealing with an audience increasingly able to jump from traditional film to anime[v], or from stage to photography[vi], or from reality to television[vii].

In response, I believe we must reclaim what has been subdued without sacrificing what we have brought to the front of church consciousness. Our future should not discard contemporary worship music, but re-contextualize it within a broader, richer, mural of sensual design. Likewise, we should not feel the need to always validate the technological with the ancient, despite the inherent charm, but we should feel confident employing technology as a means of communicating future truths, not just remembering timeless ones.

The goal, however, is not sameness or uniformity on any level – but competitive creativity. Ginghamsburg UMC, Vintage Faith Church, Saddleback Church, and St. John’s Anglican in Vancouver all offer multisensory approaches to worship, but in totally different ways. The goal is pentacaust, not branding. We must learn how “to create experiences in our experience economy[viii]” and offer spiritually hungry people a buffet of the choicest parts of faith for their palette.

Here are some suggestions on how to “burn the other three,” as I am now fond of saying, include:
a. eating and drinking
b. singing in Taize[ix]
c. silence
d. communion
e. open sharing
f. reading together, in parts or in unison
a. scripture
b. poetry
c. creeds
d. the Lord’s Prayer
g. lection divina[x]
h. public prayer
i. spiritual direction[xi]
j. experiential prayer stations[xii]
k. intercessory prayer
l. public confession of sins

Connection with Jesus is so important, we ought to include every available medium for experiencing God in our services. Worship services should be tactile, visual, sensual, full of sight and sound, but also touch and taste and scent.

[i] source:
[ii] Tom Beaudoin, in his book Virtual Faith: the Irreverant Spiritual Quest of Generation X, makes a great case for the recurrence of spiritual tradition through things like body modification and decoration. He maintains that these are please for spiritual recognition in a spiritually bankrupt sub-culture.
[iii] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church p.128
[iv] I am not making the argument here that God’s purposes are simply our comfort. I am, however, wanting to point out how often we exclude people by only making the gospel available in one package. When people can interact with the gospel in a way they understand, then they can be held accountable before God for what they know He is offering them. The Gospel is not a message of ease, but it should be an easy message to hear.
[v] As per Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, volume one
[vi] As per Cirque de Soleil
[vii] as per American Idol
[viii] Len Sweet, Soultsunami p.211
[ix] Taize is a community in France frequented by pilgrims from all over the world looking for spiritual experiences. The main draw is the participation in chanting and prayer exercises.
[x] This is a four-part method to bible reading outlined succinctly in Tony Jones’ Read, Think, Pray, Live.
[xi] Spiritual direction is an ancient discipline whereby two mature and discerning believers spend time in prayer and in the word together listening to what they believe God is speaking to the other. For a more thorough treatment, see Tony Jones’ Soul Shaper: exploring spirituality and contemplative practices in youth ministry pp.120-128.
[xii] Artistic spaces set aside for prayer and for use in prayer. See for a very helpful start.

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