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?"

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