Archives For Church history

Sometime back I pointed to a statement, found in Amanda Porterfield’s ‘Modern Christianity’.

‘African American spirituals are “chants of collective exorcism” that delivered souls of black folk from total despair during the pre-civil war era in the United States’(2010:317)

The phrase is situated right at the beginning of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s essay entitled ‘Spirituals and the quest for freedom’. It’s been a while since I read the essay, but the impact it had on me has lived on.

Along with the socio-political context of Kirk-Duggan’s statement, it might also suit as a framework for the positive theological impact on music, architecture, proto-science and general intellectual activity of the Church (read: Commonwealth of Christ) in the middle-ages.

For example: among other things aspects of life in the Middle Ages reflected pain, suffering and oppression. in light of a transcendent point, that drove a reverential hope in God’s covenantal promise of deliverance. They were collective actions towards the Lord who alone is God, as He chooses to do and be for us[i].

Communal “exorcism” then, looks for a penetrative breakthrough, a freedom already granted under the interactivity of the one who ‘is not far from us’[ii].

We need to move beyond a socially engineered version (misconception?) of it and back to an appreciation of its relevance to the Church universal.

Our ideas of “exorcism” need to change, because this act is an exercise of our true freedom. We are essentially reaching for the God, who in Jesus the Christ reaches for us. It is a detachment, a protest and petition against whatever appearances, identity politics, labels and tolerance induced qualifiers might tell us about the nature of freedom. To borrow the theological language of Karl Barth, collective exorcism is related to God’s (“No”) reorientation  of us towards a commanded orientation that is for us (God’s “Yes”).

Prayer is a collective “exorcize”.

This “exorcize” is activated by a liberating ‘encounter between nature and grace – the encounter between both men and women, and the Word of God’[iii]

An act where we are told that when, in, and under Christ, ‘two should agree’ we are to expect God’s own decisive ‘amen’[iv].

“Chants of collective exorcism”, therefore, becomes an important phrase for understanding how God, in Jesus-the-Victor works through us. Radical is the invitation to pray. Not in order to conjure up God, Barth would say, but so that we may call upon Him, in freedom for our neighbours, and our neighbours in freedom for us.

Consequently, “exorcize” (active prayer) becomes understood as an exercise of genuine freedom.

Distinguishing God’s triumph from that of human triumphalism. Finding a thankful paradox in the midst of pain, where we can rejoice in his triumph. Responding to an invitation with prayer and gratitude, for his triumph to become ours.

“Heyr, himna smiður” was written by Kolbeinn Tumason[i] in 1208. The music was composed in the 1970s by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938-2013), one of Iceland’s foremost contemporary composers.” (Arstidir music)

Literal translation.

Hear, smith of the heavens, what the poet asks. May softly come unto me thy mercy.
So I call on thee, for thou hast created me. I am thy slave, thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee to heal me. Remember me, mild one, Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns, generous and great, human every sorrow from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one, Most we need thee, truly every moment in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin, good causes, all aid is from thee, in my heart.
(FaithandHeritage.com)

Sources:

[i] Deuteronomy 4:32-40
[ii] Paul, Acts 17:28
[iii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D Dogmatics as Ethics, 1.2:791
[iv] Jesus, Matthew 18:19

Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church o...

Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. Portrait (1700) with the true effigy of the Saint by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650-1732), (painted after a statue in Clairvaux with the true effigy of the saint) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years back I spent a semester studying Medieval Church History. One particular outcome of this course was a bourgeoning appreciation for what my lecturer called, ‘the discipline of emulation’ (Gray).

This is an area of meditation that falls closely near  the ‘discipline of study’ [1].

Engaging with this discipline meant copying out verbatim, Bernard of Clairvaux’s, ‘In Praise of the New Knighthood’.

The task was to rewrite, by hand, the entire treatise.

This process allowed me to see how participating in spiritual disciplines require endurance and, how working through a discipline can uncover areas of our lives that we would otherwise be ignorant of.

I was not displaced from the spiritual significance of the exercise, nor was I disconnected from the insights gained by focusing completely, both mentally and physically on the text.

Taking the time to carefully reproduce an accurate hand written copy of the text required solitude and silence.

I was powered by a solid commitment to the task at hand. As a retail manager by trade, I have had the proverbial, ‘time is money’ engrained into my subconscious, cognitive behavioural stimuli.

At that time this ludicrous measuring stick became a serious obstacle for me. Through engaging in this discipline I was shown how rushed my life had become. I also discovered that I struggled, psychologically and emotionally, to give myself permission to relax and not feel guilty about it.

I am grateful for moving through this unique form of ‘experimental archaeology’[2].

The intense focus, helped re-enforce a spiritual reading of Bernard’s treatise. On completion of the project, I found that I had become more concerned with understanding the text.

My purpose was no longer just to complete the task, but to genuinely listen to what Bernard had intended to convey to his readers. My whole approach was effectively transformed. Subsequently, so was my appreciation for the form, content and context of the document as a whole.

Scribes filled libraries with accurate copies of valuable information. They preserved material, which has become a primary witness that would have otherwise been lost to modern society.

The challenge to carefully reproduce the information before me, made me aware of how modern society could benefit from the example of scribes.

Scribes took their time to get it right. They did not want to bear false witness by making errors of transposition and translation. For the scribes this emulation was a product of worship.

To copy a text is to cherish it and move closer to the author and his or her subject. When mistakes were made there must have been a constant tension between pushing on or giving up.

For a medieval scribe, emulation as a spiritual discipline, was sincere Christian worship. Perhaps blogging is a spiritual discipline that follows closely in line with emulation.

Such awareness may allow those of us who blog, to apply what we do as a method of worship, motivated in similar ways as that which motivated the scribes. Consequently, presenting ourselves and our work, as a living sacrifice, offered up in Spirit and in Truth (Jn.4:24)[3].

2 Cor 11_33_12_9

An example: the work of a scribe: 2 Cor. 11_33_12_9 


References:

[1] Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline: the path to Spiritual Growth, Hodder & Stoughton, London UK.

[2] disclaimer: I understand that this activity would not be completely  considered experimental archaeology. We did not use materials such as ink, parchment or vellum et.al. Nevertheless,given the task I view this exercise as a participation in a form of experimental archaeology.

[3] John 4:24 ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship the Him must worship in Spirit and truth’