Saturday, August 29, 2015

Integrating Liturgy and Classical Education

James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, believes (and I along with him) that humans are inherently liturgical animals. For those who may not know, liturgy is a structured order of service, generally used in worship. All churches have a liturgy. Some churches use formalize it (the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and some Presbyterian) and others do not (Baptists, community churches, etc.). The point of the liturgy is to focus on God and therefore has a place outside of Sunday worship in "the common" or "the mundane" (if you're interested in what draws me to a liturgical church, I've posted about that previously here and here and here). One way I've been trying to incorporate this in my life has been to participate in the four daily offices (Morning Prayer, Afternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline) laid out in the Book of Common Prayer.

The reason liturgy is so powerful as to do with its intentionality. For example, if you ever visit or attend a church where incense is used, it's there because the smell will linger on you for the rest of the day, constantly reminding you that you are a sweet smelling aroma to God (2 Cor. 2:15). Before the priest (or minister) reads the Gospel, he'll say, "The Gospel according to _______" and everyone makes the sign of the cross on their foreheads, lips, and hearts as a reminder to keep the Word of God on our minds, mouth, and lips. There are lots of examples that could be discussed by liturgy isn't just rote actions, it's purposeful and layered with a range of theological depth in meaning and symbolism. I have a theory you could bring someone to Christ merely by walking through the liturgy with them (I'll let you know if I ever try that).

But today, I don't want to just talk about liturgy during the service, though it is an important topic. Today, I want to explore the liturgy as it applies to classical education.

For a refresher on what classical education is, I've also written about that here. But basically, the idea of classical education is to explore all subjects under the holistic picture of Creation with the intent of knowing God and making him known.

There are two main things to discuss about this connection. First is education as liturgy and the second is how to incorporate formalized liturgy into the classroom.

The central thesis of Christianity is that God has revealed himself to humanity first through nature, then through Scripture, and ultimately through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. As such, God is knowable because in his transcendence of Creation, he is also imminent in it. This means formal theological study is a helpful and vital way to learn about him, but it is not the only way. As a Christian, nothing about education is a "neutral space." If the project of secular education is to create "productive" or "functioning" citizens (as if that has done much good), it is at its best incomplete. The Christian understands that to know God and to make Him known and as such, education becomes an act of worship. In the same way that Christians should foster intentional methods in their church services to foster reverent worship, so also a Christian educator should formalize their classroom (or homeschool room) in a way that integrates God into all subjects, not just implicitly but explicitly. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard taught that Christ must permeate everything we do or nothing--maybe it's time we listened to him and applied this to our education philosophy.

Classical educators are in a unique place to bring liturgy into the classroom. Building liturgy into the school day helps students understand their vocation as royal  priests (2 Peter 2:9) or long-term missionaries in the world of academics. Some ways that you can incorporate these liturgical elements are praying collects (the collect for education, found below is a good way to start the day), or have your student write collects for each individual subject they are involved with and then praying them together at the start of each subject, call/response reading of the Psalms and/or other Scriptures to keep the Word at the center of your time together, etc. These are just some basic ideas. There is an endless realm of possibilities. The main question to ask yourself when instituting these into your day is, "Is Christ permeating all things in our classroom?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Article Review: “Toward a Liturgical Existenialism” by Joseph Rivera


In the article “Toward a Liturgical Existentialism,” Joseph Rivera from  attempts to “situate Christian spirituality in view of a post-Heideggerian world..”[1] Effectively, the purpose is to improve existentialist phenomenology by infusing Christian liturgical spirituality into it. In his paper, Rivera compares the existentialist philosophy of Heidegger with French theologian and philosopher Jean-Yves Lacoste. To do this, he compares the two philosophers on a number of subjects: the world, existence and eschatology, and existence and the topology of the cross.

Brief Summary

The thesis of Rivera’s argument is that Christians should embrace a liturgical existentialism ordered by St. Augustine’s idea of an “incarnate pilgrimage.”[2] This method is contrasted against Lacoste’s asceticism which seeks to withdraw from the world like a monastic because pilgrimage engages with the world and critiques it so that the incarnation does not remain merely an event but an ongoing reality through the Church. To make his argument, Rivera uses the theological basis of Lacoste to argue for a Christianized understanding of Heideggarian existentialism. After he makes that juxtaposition, he clarifies some of the nuances in Lacoste’s proposals as a permutation between St. John of the Cross and Heidegger. To conclude the article, Rivera argues for is incarnate pilgrimage against Lacoste’s cloistered asceticism.

Critical Interaction

Rivera holds two obvious presuppsotions. The first is a commitment to the basic tenants of Heideggarian existentialism which is seen throughout his paper as it undergirds all of his major points. The second is his commitment to Catholicism. In catholic theology, the incarnation

is not seen just as a singular event but as a continuing reality through both the Church (who live as the Body of Christ) and the Eucharist (where the Church partakes of the Body of Christ). It is out of these two commitments that he derives his goal: to improve the catholic Christian understanding and engagement of Heidegger’s teachings by using and improving the methodology of Lacoste.
Lacoste reappropriated Heidegger’s work to focus mainly on the existential dimension of the Christian’s life in the world by arguing for “liturgical reduction” with an emphasis on the “corporate community of believers” instead of the traditional existentialist angst.[3] The main way this occurs in Lacostian analysis is replacing anxiety associated with one’s death with the death of Christ on the Cross as the “existential mode of being-in-the-world.”[4] Rivera replaces Lacoste’s conclusion of a contemplative and ecclesial existence before God which entails a withdrawal from the world.[5]
Rivera attempts to correct the tendency of Lacoste to bracket the world off from the space of the ascetic. His problem is with the idea that that Lacoste’s liturgical reduction has no application for the Christian who is “in the world but not of it” (i.e. a lay person who has “secular” employment). The negative theology of Lacoste has trouble explaining the Incarnation resulting in a “Christological imbalange.”[6] This is where Rivera’s use of Augustine’s idea of pilgrimage is pertinent. Given its participation in the perpetual reality of the Incarnation, the Church cannot withdraw from the world and engage it. This is an impeccable argument that is consistent with orthodox Christianity. The Church is called to bring God to the world, functioning as a “royal Priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9).
The two main theological and biblical perspectives advocated by Rivera in his paper are Christian pilgrimage and eschatoligcal hope. Augustinian pilgrimage is summarized in St. Augustine’s work City of God when he says, “by grace he was a pilgrim below, and by grace he was a citizen above.”[7] This avoids the “escapism” of the monastery while engaging the world with redemption in mind. Eschatological hope is summarized in 1 Cor. 13:12 (NRSV) when St. Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” It is the full realization of God in the world that transforms angst into hope that will be consummated and the completion of the pilgrimage.
It is hard to isolate any major weaknesses in Rivera’s argumentation. However, his biggest strength is in the divergence from Lacoste by staying true to Incarnational theology. Lacoste borders on Gnosticism when he argues that the world is an obstacle standing between humanity and God. Rivera stands in contrast to that by arguing for direct engagement with the world. It stands that in light of the Incarnation event (and subsequent ongoing Incarnations mentioned earlier), this is the proper praxis instead of withdrawel which is why the thesis of the article is proven.
Through his analysis, Rivera offers two points of application. The first is a basis for being in the world, also known as Christian living. The Christian should live in a way that brings God’s love to the world through any means they can. Lacoste’s view creates a dilemma for the Christian because they must choose secular or sacred but Rivera stays truer to the message of Christianity by arguing that they should transorm the secular into the sacred. The second is the eschatological hope. Christians should be anticipating the return of Christ as the ultimate resolution of their pilgramge and working to usher in the Kingdom of God.


In the end, it is clear Rivera builds a solid case for Augistinian pilgrimage. By doing so, he is able to engage Heidegger and Lacoste while maintaining a healthy theology based on the Incarnation and eschatology. While he showed te superiority of his methodology, Rivera leaves the reader with a few questions, mainly on the side of practicality. For example, he emphasizes the importance of engaging the world by bringing God’s love to it but he never gives a concrete explanation how that should be done. One is also forced to wonder how Augustinian theo-politics applies to Rivera’s thesis. That said, these issues are somewhat out of the scope of the paper so it makes sense for Rivera to remain silent on them. These topics would make for interesting future articles. 
Selected Bibliography

Rivera, Joseph. “Toward a Liturgical Existenialism.” New Blackfriars 94 (January 2013): 79-96.

[1] Joseph Rivera, “Toward a Liturgical Existentialism,” New Blackfriars 94 (January 2013), 79.

[2] Ibid., 95

[3] Ibid., 81-82

[4] Ibid., 82.

[5] Ibid., 83

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] Ibid.