Monday, July 04, 2016


My hypothesis is that meaningful ceremonies are as ecological as life itself is — that is, what people believe is true is very much shaped by the world around them. The efficacy of their symbols is directly drawn from their familiarity with the phenomenon. “The Lamb of God” can hardly mean much to an Inuit, but it means a great deal to a sheep rancher who has delivered a real lamb, held it in his arms, and taken it to maturity. Still, raising a lamb in Mexico is different from raising a lamb in Montana or Australia.


About 1976 I was at the Pacific Northwest UU District’s leadership school, where a group of powerful and competent women I sometimes privately called “a demi-monde” and other times “a Greek chorus,” designed an ingathering service for the first night. We would all have driven a long way to Fort Worden on the edge of the Pacific coast, arriving in time for supper — a little stunned, road-weary, and maybe (like me) terrified.
At supper we found index cards by our plates and were asked to write on them a few sentences about a precious, maybe transforming, moment in our lives that we would like to share. We handed them in before we ate, then those women disappeared.
After supper it was dark. We joined hands, not knowing where we were going, and were led over the lawn, hearing the sea, to a free-standing building that was a gymnasium. Inside it was dark except for a pool of light in the middle. In the pool of light, which was created by dozens of lit pillar candles standing on a carpet of paper, we could just see that there was writing spaced out on the paper. We were instructed to sit on one of the sections of large writing and discovered they were what we had put on our index cards, but we weren’t to sit on our own writing. Then we were asked to read aloud what we were sitting on.
There wasn’t much more. Must’ve been music. Pachelbel’s Canon was everybody’s favorite. It was the Seventies. Afterwards we returned in silence to the ordinary bright auditorium where we sat in chairs properly and looked at the schedule, asked questions — all that stuff. Sharing that small in-gathering had begun to bond us into a Beloved Community. Not because we’d done something familiar, prescribed or even enforced by an institution, but because we’d shared. It was simple, like a supper party, but it was also a little risky and experimental. And a little like Communion.

In the beginning the earliest Christians brought the bread and wine with them when they came to the worship service. It was an ingathering. There’s a time in the mass when orderlies go to the back to get the bread and wine where it had been left next to the door.
People have a tendency to forget that a symbol is just a symbol. But the best symbols, as Paul Tillich said, are the ones that are “found,” that arise in our lives from what is natural and just THERE. Like sharing a meal or talking about something we read. These UU women knew how to design an ingathering because they had organized so many supper parties: they knew to think through who would be there, what their day would have been like, what needed to be supplied, how people would know what to do, and how to guide people in and out.


I don’t know the Blackfeet Thunder Pipe Ceremony as it is organized today (2016) except second-hand, since I have stepped back from these circles. I was a participant in the Sixties when the circle was primarily old people born in the 1880’s. It is an in-gathering of the Beloved Community and also an in-gathering of the spirits of many creatures of the northern prairie. It is not mysterious, or was not when it grew up within the lives of the People years ago. Paranoid agents banned it and then it was mysterious, more powerful than when done openly.

A Thunder Pipe
Thunderpipes that I’ve seen have brass tacks, brass falconry bells, satin ribbons, and occasionally exotic birds that were once mounted by a taxidermist (they have glass eyes) and that are not local. The stem, three feet long, is bored by something similar to the technology for rifles — in fact, the stem is about the length of a “long gun.” This suggests post-contact origins.
The stone bowl, where the tobacco burns, is not normally kept on the stem or calumet because the pipe is not smoked except in times of extremely intense need. (There are other pipes for smoking at all ceremonies.) The most striking element of the pipestem is an entire set of colorful quilled eagle tail feathers, usually from a young golden eagle, not a bald eagle. Bald eagles are fish-eaters found around water. Golden eagles live on the prairie and along the mountains where thermals lift them soaring across the sky. Many ermine hides (winter weasel pelts, which are white with a black-tipped tail) hang with other objects, maybe a Metis assumption sash. There are beads and sometimes the red wool cloth manufactured for trade in Stroud, England.
A secondary pipe, similarly decorated and called “the woman’s pipe,” is really a length of gun barrel that had been taken off a “long gun” the way a shotgun is illegally shortened today. And there’s a smoking pipe, maybe not kept in the Bundle. In those days a pipe for smoking tobacco was something like today’s coffee pot, always offered to guests. It was a kind of structuring device: the guest comes, the pipe goes around while there is talk, at some point people have had enough and the guest leaves. It also makes spaces for people to consider what they are saying while they puff or relight or refill the pipe.

Sculpture by Bob Scriver
Image in "The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains"
The People gathered according to the seasons, coming from far and wide across the prairie to meet when there was enough grass for the horses and fresh meat for the People. Some think they used the stars as a calendar and others guess they went by the same kind of natural indicators that a farmer might use to decide when to cut his grain. The Thunder Pipe Bundle is associated with the spring storms that sweep across the vast grasslands, booming and flashing as they move, and sometimes striking lodges, people and animals. Prayers are made that storms will not do this, but that they will water the grass and that the sarvisberries will flower, for this is the beginning of the berries that will end up in berry soup.
Berry soup is the ceremonial food, not to symbolize someone’s death, but to work by affinity to encourage a good crop. When handed one’s bowl of soup, one picks out a big fat berry and the accumulation is handed forward to an altar where they are dedicated as examples of what is asked for. If Christian Communion is interpreted as a sharing, a plea for salvation, then maybe berry soup is the same. If Christian Communion is about the Crucifixion of Jesus, then berry soup is not the same thing. There is no priest, but the Bundle Keeper may make prayers. They were for ALL the People of the tribe.

Historical McClintock photo
Berry soup is not a store-bought food. In fact, usually dried berries are used and they are the last of the previous year’s crop, so they are more like seed grain than bread. Many different people might donate berries. They might have been cached somewhere, the way a marmot hoards grass underground, and in fact, a marmot’s underground hay stash might be a good place to hide dry berries in a rawhide container. If you want to be funky, in the old days the seeds of the berries the People ate were returned to the land in the same way that the seeds eaten by birds and animals go back to soil, so sarvisberries grew thick near the accustomed campgrounds. Such elements of the People’s lives traveled through natural feedback loops much in the way that our bodies stay stabilized by metabolic feedback loops in the blood.
Besides the People and the berries being gathered together, there is another in-gathering within the Bundle: the lesser creatures of the land. Anthros and fans are always dazzled by the big bright objects like the spectacular calumet, but often the stronger meaning is in the humble, scruffy, small inclusions. These might include the skins of an owl, a duck, a loon, a spotted fawn, or a muskrat. Each is wrapped in calico the way a baby would be wrapped, with the head sticking out. They are probably harbingers of spring, such as owls being especially vocal because of looking for mates, the ducks coming back and pairing off, the fawns being dropped by the deer.
Blackfeet didn’t eat these creatures except in some kind of emergency, but they watched them carefully to see what they could learn. The land was their text, the animals the writing on it. At the Opening Ceremony, the men choose one of these little sub-bundles to hold as they dance, often imitating the animal’s movements as closely as they can. Each animal has its own song. I’ve maintained for a long time that if a person REALLY wanted to be a Bundle Ceremony participant, the right way to go about it would not be reading the complete notes of Clarke Wissler or John Ewers, but walking on the land daily in pursuit of natural history.

John Murray, a contemporary Blackfeet Bundle Keeper
Today the Bundle Keepers are the more prosperous and educated people who put emphasis on provenance and genetics — hereditary entitlement — though if they didn’t inherit, they would have paid money. Thus the ceremony has become focused on gate-keeping and conformity to many small rules as remembered by the oldest participants. This is a serious shift and quite similar to the shift in Christian communion away from the valorization of ordinary sensory life towards theological abstraction, away from personal experience and towards arguments over small issues. This is why I have stepped back from both Bundle Opening ceremonies and Christian ceremonies.

Bishop Edward Braxton


In December of 2011 the Bishop Edward Braxton forced the resignation of the 72-year-old Rev. William Rowe of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill, because Rowe had deviated from the exact words dictated in the Roman Missal in order to better echo the Gospel message of the day. Instead of saying, “Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart,” he said, “We thank you, God, for giving us Jesus who helped us to be healed in mind and heart and proclaim his love to others.”
Of three experts on liturgy from within the Catholic bureaucracy, Monsignor Kevin Irwin, professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, came closest to the point of view I’m claiming. He said there were some prayers said by a priest at Mass in which he is “beholden to the structure not the words.” I’m also asserting that the structure emerges from the human brain interacting with the immanence of meaning in the world. Not from Rome.

Many early Christians (including Jesus) felt themselves to be Jewish. The Jewish ceremonies at the time were mostly centered in three places:
1. The temple, where the Aaronic priest gave sacrifices.
2. The synagogues, which were located in neighborhoods where groups led by a rabbi gathered to study scripture.
3. The home, where meals were treated as times of thanksgiving and where bread and wine were blessed by the head of the household.
Before the first Christian rites were recorded about 300 AD, they had evidently settled into a pattern where the people gathered in a home, read and discussed scripture, shared a meal (the agape feast or love-feast), and finished with communion, which was now understood to replace temple sacrifice forever, since Jesus was the supreme sacrifice of blood and flesh. Over the next decades, the communion separated from the agape feast, which eventually dropped out.
When Hippolytus wrote out descriptions of the liturgy in the third century AD, the service was in two parts:
1. The Ante-Eucharist or scripture reading and homily, intended to recall the teachers of the past.
2. The Eucharist proper, in which the taking of bread and wine was in memory of Jesus’ sacrifice (often interpreted as God’s sacrifice)
Many small units of liturgy were adapted from the Jewish ceremonies, including hymns, prayers and the psalms. Other elements came from the many other resources of an intercultural civilization. Sometimes Jewish elements were changed in meaning by ideas from that larger world.
The service was sung or chanted, rather than “said,” and the people often stood with arms outstretched like today’s African-Americans. Among the kinds of prayer were long-persisting forms and wordings. Some have acquired names (The Gloria Patri, the Lord’s Prayer, the Aaronic Blessing). Some were exactly worded and memorized or read while others were intended to be extemporaneous.
Even then, there were traditional patterns as there are in “blessings” before meals, as follows:
1) We thank You, God, for this food;
2) we ask for Your guidance as we continue through our day;
3) we wish for Your blessing on those we love.
The structure follows naturally from the assumed relationship between person and God: receiving, asking guidance, and interceding for others.
When Christianity finally became legal and then was elevated to the state religion at the expense of Judaism and paganisms, there was a drastic escalation in the amount of pomp and ceremony. The altar, which had been a wooden table on wheels, now became fixed because it was a heavy and elaborately decorated metal or marble monolith. Court manners, especially those related to the Emperor, crept into the liturgy: processions, bowing and kneeling, holding the hands palms-together, incense and candles, elaborate vestments, and precious communion vessels. More prayers were added and they were more likely to be prescribed by an authority, so that they would be properly and beautifully done.
The next historical stage was brought by the disintegration of the Roman Empire, accompanied by many theological controversies. The river of Christianity was divided into many small streams with various and contrasting stream beds: the Spanish, the Galician or French (who thought up the ashes on Ash Wednesday and the palms on Palm Sunday), the Irish, Scots, even various subdivisions of England, developed unique flourishes and integrated local practices and symbols into the archetypal pattern.

Pope Pius V
To preserve the river metaphor, in those years a wide fertile delta of customs was built up before the streams were reunited by Pope Pius V in 1570, when he promulgated the first uniform missal for the Roman Catholics. The missal was written by returning to the ancient records of the early church. Reformation by return to origins is a recurring pattern in liturgical styles.
But what is considered to be “origins” might vary. By now the clergy was a separate class with ordained priests augmented with monastic communities that specialized worship into a career, praying every three hours on behalf of the people but excluding the actual world. Variations proliferated. A spin-off liturgy developed during the week when people would come and pray while looking upon the consecrated communion wafers left over from Sunday.
Along with this shift came a change of mood. The whole idea of sharing a joyful thanksgiving in a context of loving community changed to one of a mysterious rite done in an atmosphere of awe and fear. Hymns of Praise were supplanted by Prayer of Consecration and Humble Access, and even these slipped towards abasement and extreme penitence. These were times of plague and disorder, inquisition and groups who went through the land whipping themselves. (See Ingmar Bergman’s depiction in “The Seventh Seal.”)

from "The Seventh Seal"
Late in this period arose another spin-off liturgy, specifically for ordinary people and in their vernacular. Called a “prone” service, it included intercessory prayers, psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostle’s Creed, the Decalogue, general confession and absolution, and a homily. When the inevitable Reformation came, this was the model some of the Protestant churches adopted.
The Zwinglian reformers went to the most severely pruned version of the liturgy, even more strict than the Prone service or the Ante-Eucharistic segment of mass, which was used by some Protestants. It was word-centered, based strongly on scripture and teaching about scripture. There was a return to the Old Testament ethic and the Judaic veneration of learning the law. Hymns were rejected as frivolous. The surrounding elements were overpowered by the sermon and its own rhetorical structure, a passionate logic that mixed argument and narrative. Sermons were epic, lasting literally for hours.
Shelves and shelves of books have been written on the variations in the Eucharistic pattern, their causes and consequences. The smallest change in wording or the order of events can have massive theological implications.
The whole worship event can be like an opera or a Shakespeare play, so familiar that we not only predict what will happen next, but also judge the smallest differences in timing or tone. Those who like this pattern need not be attracted to it by its theological grounding, but may only enjoy the pageantry. This is the danger of anything so ancient and elaborate. It can become so bogged in detail that it is finally emptied of vital content.
Dom Gregory Dix

Dom Gregory Dix (1901–1952) was an Anglican who belonged to an Anglican Benedictine community. As one might imagine, he lived with a certain amount of tension between wanting to defend his own order’s autonomy, but fully appreciating the great Roman Catholic tradition and wishing for a closer relationship. He became a major liturgical scholar at a time of re-alignment during and after WWII, and wrote the masterful book called ‘The Shape of The Liturgy.
Two pre-existing kinds of event shape his thinking about the order of ceremony as much as content of the actual words (which is where most people find their arguments). The historical origin of the Mass was a two-part movement. The first part, called the “synaxis,” is centered on the origins of Christianity in the idea of the Holy Book (or scroll) and the tradition of study that was at the heart of Judaism. The second part, which in the beginning was for those who had converted to the idea that Jesus was the Redeemer, people who had been baptized to signify their conversion, was centered on Communion and called the Eucharist.
There has always been an argument about whether taking communion would be an inner force for salvation, or whether it is a privilege earned by preparation and conversion. Would taking communion make you good, or would being good justify communion? Since it was the passport to heaven, there was also an argument between those who thought children, innocent, should be baptized (as insurance) or whether it should be reserved until a person was old enough to understand what faith was. Then there were the arguments about “proper” baptism. These differences have persisted over millennia, which suggests they are unresolvable. Such dissensions sent everyone back to comb the books for justification, which kept the Synaxis alive, but it was the Eucharist, an act of community, that was at the heart of Mass.
Thus Dix saw FOUR parts to the liturgy.  In the first section, called Synaxis
1. entry into the worship space (crossing the limen or threshold) where
2. assembly for worship,
3.  then a further entry into an even more holy place for the Eucharist
4. the return to the world over the limen.
The second section can be called an “anamnesis” which commemorates and presents again the sacrifice of Christ. This second part again has four parts: Offertory, Consecration, Fraction and Communion. In ordinary language, the bread and wine are brought forward (this is NOT the same as passing the collection plate for money), the priest blesses the bread and wine (now they are holy and effective), the priest breaks up the bread, and the people partake.
One main rift in the original Christian body was between the Eastern Orthodox whose culture encouraged them to see the supernatural in everything. They concluded that the thing to do with the Holy Bread and Wine was to protect the people from it during its transformation. A curtain was hung behind the altar so the priest could do the “fractionation” in an enclosed space in case the wafer blew up or became radioactive. In contrast the Roman culture wanted everyone to see and admire the Holy Substance, so their priest not only held it up for everyone to see, but also rang a bell in case people were so sunk in their own prayers that they might miss that moment. This affected the very architecture of the church, since a fabric curtain eventually became replaced by a wall.
What seems simple becomes so well-known that it can be used symbolically to express many things. For instance, one seminary admitted female students at a time when not all traditions allowed women to serve Communion as priests. The seminary performed a Vespers Eucharist every Friday and one could not be fully a part of the community without taking one’s turn at serving, which left the women trapped between their seminary and their denomination. So they served bread and water, which is not technically a Eucharist and which also expressed impoverishment and penitence.
Every church, it is said, is actually three churches: one in the now; one that is going ahead, cutting trail; and one that lags behind, yearning for the old days. The work of the congregation must include them all. Dix was tracing out the previous path while never losing his grip on the central act of worship in a form so natural that it has persisted through the ages. There’s a story about a Lutheran seminary student who went to one of the early English-language masses of the Catholic church and was thunderstruck to realize that in spite of the theological differences, Lutheran mass was not different.


Von Ogden Vogt

In the Thirties Dean Sperry at Harvard was proposing a three-part theory of worship “arc” based on the classic syllogism of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis.”
Then along came von Ogden Vogt, who developed an elaborated scheme of beats-and-arc as follows, quoting him:
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.”
HUMILITY: “The sense of diminution . . . this low point of contrast is a normal and often intense stage in the experience of worship.”
VITALITY: “Out of the world of frustration and weakness into the tides of full and complete life.”
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.”
ILLUMINATION: “Problems are clarified and wishes reordered. What seemed important sinks in the scale, the great values emerge and are freshly cherished.”
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.”
PEACE: “Surely there should be at the end of such a supreme course of experience an integrity of being that is reconciliation and peace.”
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 humanist content, so that the church he “built” is a celebration of steam engines and suspension bridges within the walls of a cathedral.
At any rate, Vogt was working for a universal worship pattern with an integrity of its own that was drawn directly from human experience, but also heavily influenced by European and especially British models. It’s the bit about human experience that’s relevant for this thesis.
“. . . the outer form of the exercise of worship should parallel the inner order of the experience of worship. . .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. . . 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.”

Vern Barnet

The Unitarian Universalist Abraxans were also wedded to the Mass form, which had become a “hymn sandwich” when the Synaxis overtook the Eucharist — words overtaking acts when Unitarians dropped communion. The Anglican church had a brief form they used at Vespers and some Abraxans felt this was the ultimate form. It would be interesting to propose that the Synaxis was essentially Unitarian — all reasoning and word — while the Eucharist was essentially Universalist, an expression of compassion.
When the Abraxan Worship Reader was assembled in 1980, it was reacting to a couple of decades of tumbling change in UU liturgies. Open to the culture, the denomination could not help being subject to the same forces of dissension, calls for renewal, demands for social action, and obsession with psychology. Some were exasperated enough to try to revert to earlier and happier experiences in Christian congregations. Abraxas undertook to seek a common axis, a point of reference.
Vern Barnet always had a taste for comparative religion with close attention to the underlying forces of unity as well as varieties of detail and ornamentation, did the editing. He began with an excerpt from Von Ogden Vogt’s “Art and Religion” in which Vogt described his key principle which found in Isaiah. It was a two-step process. “. . .The first reaction or feeling is that of self-abnegation, littleness, humility.” Then this symbolized idea or truth, this great existence comes into you, fills and possesses and enlarges you. Vogt refers to St. Augustine to describe this sequence of “penitence and salvation.”
Thirty years after the Abraxas group, fifty years after von Ogden Vogt, contemporary students are still stumbling across this work and wondering how to revive it. The terms of the culture have changed again. Now, instead of the anti-authoritarian ferment and anti-European focus of the mid-twentieth century when “God died,” post-modernism has endorsed all that, codified and exhausted it. Now we are looking at the planet from the perspective of the former God or at least an Angel. We witness while nations implode, international corporations control nations, and the environment is ravaged. But we are not sure what our testimony ought to be. Perhaps we can only pray.

Abraxans loved paraphernalia, vestments, smells and bells, secret names. They were traditional, but would mix traditions by using a reading from Hinduism, or a little ritual from an obscure corner of Christianity. It’s a style that came from the Sixties/Seventies comparative religion studies.
Abraxas was an admirable experiment in re-invigorating the medieval models by reaching out for world-wide words and practices, something like the New England Transcendentalists realizing what Buddhism and Hinduism had to offer and pulling it into their Christian thinking. But they are never going to kill roosters in church even though Santeria might do that. They are never going to use Plains Indian Sun Lodge ordeals in which their chest muscles are torn. And they are not likely to throw up their hands, speak in tongues and fall on the floor. Worship styles are almost always class-based and so are denominations, which keeps them separate..Abraxans were generally scholars, not hippies.

Victor Turner

Two anthropologists (Von Gennep and Victor Turner) are my sources for a three-step process of going over a “limen” (threshold) into a state called “liminal” and then returning back into the secular world. I am matching that with the research on “neuronal brain platform” function (see Gazzinaga) to insist that “liminal time or place” is a true brain state in which previous assumed categories can be questioned and either changed or confirmed. This “liminal” state can be seen in electrical recordings, hormonal changes in the blood, and fMRI tests. It can also be felt by the person and is either identical or close to what Eliade called “the sacred.”
The first essay in the Abraxan Worship Reader is an excerpt from “Art and Religion” by Von Ogden Vogt, the source for what I call “the Dilation of the Spirit.” If you truly follow this two-part exercise, you will probably be in a liminal state. In terms of liturgy, the idea is first to bring up to consciousness what is sinful, painful, dreadful, terrifying and most humiliating in a world full of such forces. One only has to recall the latest news. This is “The Confession of Sins.”
Then comes “The Assurance of Pardon.” The question in our era has been that without an all-powerful God, what can that possibly be? I see human intimacy, connection with the beloved place in creation, and participation in the entangled universe, no matter how minute that participation might be. Since you are included, you share its dimensions. On that scale, what is human trouble?
I’m proposing that entering or leaving this state of liminality and merger with the universe is deeply entwined with sensory cues and that they touch something real in the person that can’t be accessed in other ways, not even words. They are emergent from the ecology that has created the local culture. Which images from which senses evoke the liminal — a mix of sound, smell, space, and so on — will test 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 officiant 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. I grieve that the tower of Vogt’s cathedral has been taken down due to deterioration. When paradigms shift, by definition priorities change. But the underlying process and structure persist.

This is an outline of a ceremony created by a pastor who had been scheduled to do a conventional wedding which was prevented by the death of the groom in an early morning car crash on the appointed day. The bride insisted that she wanted to be married anyway, though her mother and most everyone else thought it was a crazy, if not heretical, idea. The pastor, who had done considerable pre-marriage counseling with the couple, judged that this bride was sincere and needed the closure.

An ad hoc ritual unfolded in the parlor where the body lay. It could be said that the movement from the waiting room, across the threshold, into the parlor was a ritual act itself, the basic ingredient of which was the supportive hold of the Pastor and the walk side by side to the point of particular crisis.
Maree, the bride, stood alongside the Pastor at the coffin and the Pastor maintained a ritual presence with her. There was not only emotional and theological need to support her: there was physical need, too. Both she and the Pastor were aware of the fact that she felt faint with emotional intensity.
Maree then began a ritual dialogue with her fiancee: she spoke out her feelings toward him. She held his hand while she did this and she spelt out in reverent tones and in a surprisingly composed frame of mind her feelings for him and what their relationship had meant for her.
Then came the moment when she placed the ring on his finger. After a little inquiry as to what the Pastor thought was the most appropriate thing to do, she proceeded as the ritual functionary to place the ring on his finger.
As she placed the ring on the finger, she spoke a meaningful accompanying votum: “Mark, this is to indicate everything that our marriage has meant for us.”
Then she kissed the head of the corpse in a dignified way. . . The kiss was not sustained, but it was accompanied by what the Pastor thought was appropriate crying without any sign of hysteria. (Earlier in the ritual she had become physically weak and had said, “I just wish this heart of mine wouldn’t beat so fast.” The Pastor had interrupted the proceedings at that point and suggested, “why don’t we sit down for awhile, while you take a few deep breaths.” When she recovered, she resumed without further interruption.)
To conclude the ritual she went, now unaided, to the opposite side of the coffin, affecting a significant change in ritual grouping, placing the Pastor in a new ritual role. He now saw himself over against her, and her alongside her fiancée.
a. 23rd Psalm
b. Free Prayer
c. Lord’s Prayer in Unison
The final verbal feature in the rite was the Aaronic benediction. To symbolize the unity that Maree felt with her fiancée, and to give visible expression to the fact that, in Christ’s death had no power even to separate the living from the dead, the Pastor placed one hand on Maree’s bowed head and one on the head of the corpse, and pronounced the benediction.
He made the sign of the Cross at the close of the benediction to transcribe in “shorthand” the victory over death which Christ’s liberating and redeeming death on the cross has achieved.
His words of dismissal, “Go in peace,” sealed off the event.
Maree then kissed her fiancée farewell and, together with the Pastor, left the parlor unaided by his physical support, but with him very much at her side.
Let us begin by noting what the pastor says about why he chose the 23rd Psalm: “because its movement resonated so well with the movement of the fiancée’s relationship with Maree, the graph of the recent events, and the hopes the Pastor held out for her.” “This is the arc of the liturgy into which the pastor fits his “beats”.
Maree enters and bravely addresses Mark in that liminal space where everyone is equal. Even the line between life and death is ignored. (The feeling underlying is loving encounter.) She puts the ring on Mark’s finger. (The key symbol of marriage or at least union of some sort.) The Pastor picks up the line of thought and synthesizes meaning into a course for the future. (He enables the process of saying goodbye and leaving.)
The three underlying sections are approach, merging, and withdrawal, like any “in-gathering” ceremony. This is the pattern of a wedding: the bride approaches down the aisle, the couple is joined, and they go back up the aisle, transformed. It is also the pattern of love-making.
Valery says, “The poetic player can choose his game: some prefer roulette, others chess.” The dead body becomes a symbol for the living person. The minister is playing chess, adjusting every move he made to what Maree did. He trusted the over-all movement of the ceremony to take shape out of his personal sensitivity and resources responding to Maree’s clear intent to put the ring on Mark’s finger.
There was always the chance that Maree might have gone out of control. If she had, the game would have suddenly become roulette. The one moment of being overwhelmed by her beating heart was shaped by a little sub-ritual: sitting down and taking deep breaths. The Pastor is also conscious of the ceremonial aspect of the way he physically supports Maree, echoing the bride clinging to her father’s arm, though he doesn’t say so. He DOES say he is acting as a “loving father.”
Too much roulette and not enough chess can defeat the patterning necessary for closure. A Pastor without formal strategies of control is no Pastor at all.
Worship has the power to shape and transform strong emotion if it is appropriate and coherent. In other words, not only is it possible to draw the order of the worship itself out of the situation, but the worship has the reciprocal effect of re-ordering the lives of the worshippers. This is the work done in the “neuronal brain workspace” that allows reconciliation and personal claiming of the forces.

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