Fundamental to our humanity is the deep longing to belong and to be celebrated. There is within our core the desire to be loved, and to reflect that love back in authenticity. We are hardwired to need vulnerability even though we live in a world that makes vulnerability an unpopular and many
times unsafe experience. At the depths of our soul we are communal beings and without faithful community it is impossible to be our highest selves. It is in community our commitments are made stronger, our doubts are soothed, we are validated, our intentions are confirmed, and our memories are more real (Flunder 2005).
Sitting on the plane after spending the weekend with six of the most amazing men preparing to usher our brother into marriage we began to rehearse the events of our excursion. The plane was filled with laughter and joy as we recounted the experiences of our time together, using names that could only be understood in context of the moments that gave birth to them. Walking off the plan to the sounds of music that had become the soundtrack of our weekend I realized that if everyone could feel the feeling I was experiencing it would revolutionize the world. In a few short days my particularities as a Black, male, professional, and all the other things that make up my identity had been affirmed by the collective. Those intangibles I needed to feel supported and seen in the world and in my work, had been gifted to me by the experience of being with. I knew in that moment that the weekend had been a sacred religious moment of transcendence that was nothing short of Liturgy. This was a liturgy born of true spirituality and nurtured by community. In this particular case, it was a masculine spirituality giving birth to the liturgy and ritual known as a “Bachelor party weekend”. Masculine spirituality among these brothers was a vision that seeks to explore and incarnate. It is not concerned with living in a world without women or with women as subordinates, rather it wants men to exist as co-creators with women in healthy relationships. It imagines a world where men and woman and indeed nonbinary siblings are experiencing their own fullness, vitality, and vision (James 1996).
What if we take seriously as liturgical theologians that Liturgy is first and foremost the work of the people? Church – in the Christian tradition – in its most basic and constitutive sense refers to communal gathering around text, meal, and washing as these are interpreted as having to do with the person and work of Jesus (Lathrup 1998). Let us not forget the church’s task is to assist its people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998). Community is the birth place of liturgy, it is where we ritualize our common beliefs, passions, goals, and relationships. Without understanding our community our liturgies become vain oblations to an unknown God. They lose the functional integrity necessary to be relevant. People stop engaging liturgy when the liturgy fails to be in service of and a product of authentic community. The influential philosopher Josiah Royce spoke of Beloved community as a perfectly joined lived unity of individual men [sic] joined in one divine chorus and that is the birth place of liturgy (Marsh 2005).
Ritual is an integral part of life. It provides actions and forms through which people meet, carry out social activities, celebrate, and commemorate. Rituals born from community become the glue that holds our hum
anity in mutual responsibility and accountability. Liturgy is ritual which addresses the urge to comprehend human existence; the search for marked pathways as one moves from one stage of life to the next; and the longing to know one’s part in the vast wonder and mystery of the cosmos (S.J. 2002). This week I invite you to ask yourself what is the ethos of your community? How is your community expressed in the liturgy? What is missing from the liturgy that your community needs? How do you as a theologian define community and what role does that definition play in the way do your work?
Feel free to comment below!
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.
James, David C. 1996. What Are They Saying About Masculine Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Marsh, Charles. 2005. The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice From the Civil Rights Movement to Today. New York: Basic Books .
S.J., James L. Empereur. 2002. Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person. New York: Continuum.
Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.