Posted by: jadanzzy | March 3, 2009

Navigating Through Liturgy

A friend of mine, being a good Episcopalian, believes strongly in liturgical church. He says that “the most radical thing that the Church could do, far more radical than any “contemporary” or even post-modern emergent style worship, while those may have their place, is to hold fast to and to uphold our traditional liturgies rooted in our ancient Faith”. He recently sent me an article with the premise that young people today are going back to liturgy and ritual. It states,

What I perceive more and more is that a sizable amount (and in some environments, the majority) of us prefers “old-fashioned” liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays.

The New York Times had also written about the resurgence of latin mass and its appeal with young Catholics…

“Those that turn to it are looking for a sense of mystery, a sense of the sacred they find is missing otherwise,” said the Rev. Jerome Fasano, pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Clifton, Va., which began celebrating the Tridentine Mass in mid-September. “The more people are exposed to it, the more they are drawn to it.

It’s true for me. Mystery and a sense of the sacred are two words or ideas that I never could have used to describe the style of worship in my past as a younger Christian. Even the community I worship with now, an emergent one, doesn’t have the sense of quiet awe and reverence that I’d get at an Orthodox divine liturgy or at Catholic mass. We sing meditatively, we enjoy silence together, and sometimes we engage in small rituals. However, it’s not the same as when a cantor sings the Eucharist or when incense fills your nose and a choir sings in Byzantinian melodies behind you.

Recently, I made a decision to attend worship services in the liturgical tradition. So I went to St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church, the Cathedral of St. Philip (Episcopalian), and St. Bart’s Episcopal Church. I have not yet been to Catholic mass, but I will. From these, I’ve concluded that the Orthodox divine liturgy is the richest, but their theology is very conservative. Catholics esteem Mary and the Pope more strongly than I’d like. So I decided I’d give Episcopal churches a run for a while.

It’s beautiful stuff. The deliberate pacing of the worship, the garb of the rector/priest/deacon, the elaborate nave, the simultaneous crossing of the congregants, etc. But I can’t help feeling, as a Korean-American, that all this is rooted in a particular ethnic culture. Anglicans are largely White Anglos. Orthodox are Mediterranean and eastern European, and Catholics are also European.

These expressions have made their way over to Korea and thus, are practiced in Korea, but the majority of Korean-American Christians, from my experience, practice a variation Protestant Evangelicalism. I grew up in church where images of Jesus or anything resembling an icon would be idol worship, not to mention the typically low-structured and “normal” style of worship (save for the sprinkles of Charismatic qualities).

So I constantly ask myself what an Asian-American liturgy would look like. What does it look like to blend a ritualizing of rich theology with a celebration of my hyphenated American culture? Do I have to steep myself in Anglican, Orthodox, or Catholic tradition before I can express it in an Asian-American manner? But surely an Asian-American liturgy can be done, right?. Asians have a deep history in ritualistic practices from shamanistic roots. Asian philosophy is centered in the meditative union of humanity and nature. It wouldn’t be heresy to draw from the religions of our ancestors and redeem it for Christian worship. That’s a lot of what’s done anyway in Western/Eastern Christianity.

I wonder if my struggle is farcical. I cannot speak for the multi-faceted number of Asian-Americans who, by the way, are leaving the church in droves. Does the young Asian-American generation want mystery, contemplation, and reverence like their white liturgical counterparts? Or is that even inherently Asian?



  1. I want answers. Is that inherently Asian?

  2. If you want mystery for the sake of mystery, that reminds me of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, who replaces the church with what people desire, “miracle, mystery, and authority” as alluded by the three temptations. I think the Godhead is mystery enough, but I see what you mean about entering a sacred place and atmosphere conducive to bringing you to a state of preparedness in the presence of the Almighty. Perhaps those rituals can help some be more reverent in fearing God as Lord, instead of viewing Him as just a friend who can be taken for granted, but it seems easily corruptable or dismissed by those who see liturgy as mechanical routine instead of worship. I know you said you can’t speak for them, but why do you think Asian-Americans are leaving the church in droves. Why do you think “mystery, contemplation, and reverence” are what they lack. If that is the solution, does it only come in the form of liturgy?

    Incorporating cultural references is key to spreading the Gospel, and I think those eastern meditative practices would work well. There must have been some precedence.

  3. I don’t know what liturgy is. My brain is not wrapping around it…

    The only thing that comes to mind is the tension here between form & substance.
    To worship, one runs into two questions:
    What does the act of worship look like? What is worship?

    Different churches worship God differently. That’s a difference in form.
    I don’t think we can presume to say that because one form of worship is older or more popular or more etc… that God is somehow more pleased by one form over another. Any attempts to say one form of worship is superior strikes me as either traditionalistic (traditions are always better) or reverse-traditionalistic (newer is better).

    So then, the second portion: What is worship?
    It is spiritual and dwells in the truth. Anything that lacks the spiritual component is therefore not worship. If all we have is emotions and that is what we seek, then I have to believe we are no longer worshiping. Rather, we are being entertained? Truth. I can only take it to mean that we cling to those things that are eternally true. God loves us. God saves us. He is awesome, worthy, and mighty.

    So let’s go back to liturgy.

    I don’t believe God is particularly concerned about the forms of worship. I do believe God is concerned about the substance of our worship. To attribute to God His worthiness in spirit. If a particular form places you in the right attitude/position to worship Him, I’d say… go for it!

  4. To J, I, in no way, desire mystery for the sake of mystery. But what I do desire when it comes to communal worship is the understanding that whatever we do is a mere glimpse of a beauty we cannot fathom in its fullness. The reason why I appreciate the liturgical tradition is that it brings to ritual deep theology that has been established over the past. What I notice a lot of Korean-American Christians tend to do is think that Christianity started with John Calvin, and with white Europeans. But Christianity has deep mystic roots in Eastern culture far past that. Statistically, that Asian-Americans ARE leaving in droves. This is mostly so because the Christianity they practiced growing up was the Christianity of their parents, or another layer of discipline taken in form as Christianity. I know many Asian-Americans who still passionately worship Jesus, but I also know of many who left right when they got the chance to leave and do not practice anymore. What I’d personally like to see is the chance for Asian-Americans to not be told what to believe, but to engage in conversation, contemplation, and know–and even appreciate–that it’s perfectly okay NOT to know everything.

    To ha256, I’d like to challenge your comment by saying that as incredibly finite beings worshiping an incredibly infinite God, form is substance, and substance is form. I am not stating that high church is more ‘godly’ than low church. But for us to somehow believe that if we knew truth enough, our worship would be ‘right’ is dangerous. It is what births pharisees–a phenomenon common to Asian-American churches.

    But I also want to respond to your implication that emotions are somehow dangerous to worship. Emotions are a CENTRAL component of the human experience. What are the psalms then if not emotional outpourings of the psalmist before God? Or are we Stoics? What we seek is God, but what we’ll always get is a glimpse of God, like I mentioned above. As Paul said, we see everything in a mirror darkly, we see everything in part.

    I’d also like to ask you who ‘us’ is when you say, “God loves us. God saves us…”

  5. since i got no response from u after i emailed this to you, maybe other ppl on ur blog will get a kick out of it.

    “Christian hipsters love thinking and acting Catholic, even if they are thoroughly Protestant. They love the Pope, liturgy, incense, lectio divina, Lent, and timeless phrases like “Thanks be to God” or “Peace of Christ be with you.” They enjoy Eastern Orthodox churches and mysterious iconography, and they love the elaborate cathedrals of Europe (even if they are too museum-like for hipster tastes). Christian hipsters also love taking communion with real Port, and they don’t mind common cups. They love poetry readings, worshipping with candles, and smoking pipes while talking about God. Some of them like smoking a lot of different things.”

    on a more serious (but still not that serious) note, maybe you identify more with christian hipsters than christian asians. not saying you should orient urself in either way (lol orient) but maybe ur looking at asian american christianity through plastic boxy glasses.

  6. i’m not sure how i missed this post, dan. i have been wresting with many of the same things. i find more experiential intersections between the desert fathers of egypt and say, lao tzu, and consequently, zen buddhism than with any contemporary american orthodox or catholic church. so, i guess what ends up happening is a real search for cultural signposts of eastern practices that have seeped into the structural fabric of many emerging churches. inevitably, this leaves me completely wanting of a worship experience that can be called even remotely ‘asian’. so, in short, YES, i believe the thought and practices of the ancient, far eastern heritage should be redeemed and recontextualized. For instance, how could the church begin to live out ‘wu-wei’ as a living response to the age-old, ‘what is god’s will for my life?’ Or how may the artist embody wabi-sabi as an aesthetic manifestation of spiritual poverty?

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