The third year of “Slings & Arrows” is in part about staging a musical. The avant garde director was making a dog’s breakfast of what was essentially a pretty musical about heroin addiction. So the business director, who was a suppressed musical comedy nut, stepped in. He made a chart of what the artistic director called “beats” (the scenes) and the “arc” (the line of plot development) which revealed what the play needed, which guided choices that made it a success.
When I look at the notes for my thesis and then look at the very popular books about the nature of God, I see that what I’m doing can not be considered part of that tsunami of argument about, with, and defining God. I don’t CARE about God. I’m working with human beings here. I’m not even staying within the Christian context, but rather going to a more primal level in the brains of human beings. (Check that. I accept the new hypotheses that people think with their whole bodies.)
Much of what I have in my archives from 1982 about this moldy old thesis of mine is irrelevant. But it’s sort of interesting and though it doesn’t qualify for inclusion in my contemporary version, it might be worth putting on this blog. So for what it’s worth, here’s what might be developed into a second book, maybe even called “A Trout in the Chalice.” (See the post earlier this week about the Arthurian legends.)
In the Thirties (which we seem to be repeating, alas, having evidently not learned our lesson) along came Von Ogden Vogt, who developed an elaborate scheme of beats-and-arc as follows (Vogt's words are underlined.):
THE CALL TO WORSHIP: “Every service which has a call to worship begins with the state of the worshipper in mind rather than the presentation of divinity. Exhortation or Statement of Intention are alternative beginnings.”
(“We gather this morning to acknowledge the beauty of the world and the shelter of our community.” The bells ring. A procession enters.”)
VISION: “An awareness of All Things . . . it is the presentive element, the declaration of the divine life which the worshipper has come to find and it is itself the service of God going on in the sanctuary to which the worshipper has come to offer his praise. In form, it is the preliminary announcement of the theme of the day, and the initial rhythmic movement of the liturgy, binding together minister and choristers as participants.”
(The first hymn is announced. All rise.)
HUMILITY: “The sense of diminution . . . this low point of contrast is a normal and often intense stage in the experience of worship.”
(This is the first part of what I call the Dilation of the Spirit and some Christians call the Confession of Sins.)
VITALITY: “Out of the world of frustration and weakness into the tides of full and complete life.”
(I call this the second part of the Dilation of the Spirit and some Christians call the “Assurance of Pardon.”)
RECOLLECTION: “The heightened imagination begins to operate on earthly scenes . . .a wider range, a fuller review, possibly covering a retrospect and forecast of many years and all their affairs.”
(In a Christian context this might be the reading of scripture. Otherwise, anything that places the congregation in time and space: orchestra, video?)
ILLUMINATION: “Problems are clarified and wishes reordered. What seemed important sinks in the scale, the great values emerge and are freshly cherished.”
(For Christians the sermon. Any equivalent.)
DEDICATION: “When the mind sees what is right and best to do and the whole man [sic] is made more capacious to do it, the urgence to dedication is all but irresistible.”
For Christians the prayer after the sermon.
PEACE: “Surely there should be at the end of such a supreme course of experience an integrity of being that is reconciliation and peace.”
(We used to form a circle and sing Shalom/Salaam. Benediction.)
John Hayward points out that Vogt used this sequence to develop many actual worship services, carefully and poetically written. He was ambivalent about his relationship to Christianity, wishing to keep the high Gothic forms, but trying to fill them with humanistic content, so that the church he “built” is a replica of a European cathedral but it is decorated with commerce and science. Whether this is a synthesis or a collision is open to comment but it was convincing enough to energize his congregation and rally their resources.
At any rate, Vogt was working for a universal worship pattern with an integrity of its own that was drawn directly from human experience. It’s the bit about human experience that’s relevant for this thesis.
Vogt says, “. . . the outer form of the exercise of worship should parallel the inner order of the experience of worship. . .If the principle be a correct one, the first task of an artist in worship is to analyze the experience. It may be opposed to this suggestion that there is no typical religious experience of worship, that the many varieties of religious experience cannot be reduced to the general norm. . . I only express my view that in the main there is a comprehending normal experience which covers all these major differences. However varied the situation of the worshippers in mind, body or estate, however varied the approaches, whether mental or emotional or moral, the essential psychology of the experience is identical.”
The missing piece I needed was about the Von Gennep/Victor Turner three-step idea of “crossing the limen” into a “virtual space” where all taboos are ignored and deep change can take place -- then returning to secular life where that change can be expressed. Once the idea of “felt concepts” that Suzanne Langer suggested was matched up with fMRI perceptible brain activity, then it could be proposed that an actual shift of consciousness was responsible for this entry into “virtual space,” which is a metaphorical way of describing a particular frame of mind that allows possibility to be considered. Those who take LSD seem to describe something similar -- beyond the pretty colors and so on, some testify that they are transformed psychologically, that they let go of old conflicts and sticking points.
I’m proposing that entering and leaving this state is deeply entwined with sensory cues and that they touch something real in the person that can’t be accessed in other ways. Which images of which senses -- a mix of sound, smell, space, and so on -- will demonstrate the skill of the liturgist, both in their choosing and in their arranging: both their “beats” and their “arc.” It should be obvious that the liturgist must truly know the worshippers to achieve the kind of intense experience that people find poetic, quasi-sexual, life-changing. This is not to discredit the daily small rituals that order our lives or even the great patriotic spectacles that can unite us en masse. They are not quite the same.
But I’m pleased to have found something useful and fitting in the dim recesses of UU archives. Sound theory from an old-fashioned humanist liturgist in a polka dot bowtie! Here is a good link. I grieve that the tower of First Unitarian has been taken down due to deterioration. http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/vogt.html