I am excited to announce the publication of my new book, Embodied Liturgy: Lessons in Christian Ritual (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016). It is available from Fortress Press and Amazon.com. The book now has a live web site that I invite you to visit. You can read the Introduction and part of the first chapter for free. Go to:
This book is based on a course I taught in the Faculty of Performing Arts of Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java, Indionesia in June 2014. Since performing arts students (music, dance, drama) use their bodies to express themselves, I taught the spectrum of Christian rituals from the perspective of the use of the body in worship. The dean of the performing arts faculty also invited Indonesian pastors to participate in the course.
I have posted on this web site suggested uses of the book in parish forums and retreats and university/seminary courses. These course ideas include the possibility of including yoga as part of the lessons as I did in my course at Satya Wacana Christian University in Central Java, Indonesia, on which this book is based. (Bring a yoga teacher into the course.)
All About the Body
In my book I’m not using “body” in a metaphorical sense but in an actual physical sense.
The philosophic basis of my project is the move away from the Cartesian (Rene Descartes) mind-body dualism that has influenced Western thought and worship for the last several centuries. I embrace the return to the body in the philosophy of phenomenology, especially in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I stressed in the course that “I don’t have a body; I am a body.” Cognitive mind theory sees the mind as part of the body. We actually reach the mind through the body. What impacts our bodies, including the traumas experienced in life, shapes the mind.
The theological basis of my project is the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of the Word of God in the human Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus is Son of God, truly human and truly divine, and the second person of the Trinity, then God has a body and relates to us as one body to another. God reaches our minds by impacting our bodies. This is the basis of the sacramental life of the Church by which God uses earthly means applied to and ingested by our bodies.
I’m interested in the body that is created from the earth, that is composed of the earth’s elements, and is a part of the natural world. This is the body that receives information through the senses and therefore receives information in liturgies from what is heard, seen, smelled, tasted, and touched. This body responds to the information it receives through physical postures, including standing, turning, walking, kneeling, bowing, and even prostrating, as well as gestures such as making the sign of the cross, greeting others in the assembly, and raised in blessing.
This body has circadian rhythms and is affected by daylight and darkness. These rhythms relate to the daily prayer offices of the church and the cycles of the church year seasons.
This body is sometimes stripped naked in certain rituals, such as in Holy Baptism. But this body is also vested in new and special clothing to signify one’s status before God and in the assembly.
This body is engaged in ritual actions and is governed by the rules of social groups in terms of how free or restrained it is in public.
This body needs to eat but it also refrains from eating at certain times. This body feasts in sacred meals and is subdued in fasting.
This body is involved in celebrations such as carnivals like Mardi Gras and other festivals in which the body is extravagantly decorated and clothed. The body is traditionally addressed up for worship. In this photo, Alfanda Abhor Ardana, who was a student in my class at Satya Wacana, and Priska Lydia S. Pulungan, a lecturer in English at the university who served as a translator in the classroom, model Javanese formal attire for going to church, which includes sarongs made of batik, a cloth indigenous to Java. Batik shirts for men are also acceptable for formal wear. (I was given one to wear to a wedding reception.)
But the body may also subdued in penitential devotions, such as flagellant processions in which the penitents make reparation for the sins of the church like the Penitensya in the Philippines during Holy Week. This paraliturgical devotion, extending back to the Middle Ages, seems like an extreme form of piety. But it embodies a sound theological conviction. St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:24, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” The Penitents have confessed their sins and make reparation for the sins of the church and the world.
I am interested in rites that are applied to young bodies and mature bodies, to men’s bodies and women’s bodies, to sick bodies and possessed bodies. I am interested in rites that relate to sexuality (marriage) and death (funerals).
I am interested in how culture affects the body in terms of behavior and dress. I am interested in how the body participates in cultural expressions, such as creating space for bodies to assemble in public worship (architecture) and portrayals of the body in the liturgical visual arts; singing bodies that make music; dancing bodies that form processions; and play-acting bodies that perform liturgical dramas. I evaluate liturgical performance in terms of how belief and purpose affect the use of the body in worship within various styles of Christian worship and how the body is differently involved in worship in different liturgical styles.
I have included yoga exercises in the book, as I did in the course I taught at Satya Wacana Christian University in Indonesia. I wanted to get the students into their bodies and I found that the yoga helped the students to do this. It also helped to break up lectures given in a foreign language to the Indonesian students and pastors in the class. (There was always a translator in the classroom.) As I expanded the material from the course in the forthcoming book, I also expanded the yoga sequences with the help of my yoga teachers. Readers may also find these yoga exercises and meditation suggestions helpful.
Description of the Book
The publisher’s description of the book is as follows:
“Embodied Liturgy marks a ‘return to the body’ in thinking about Christian liturgy and sacramental practice. Rooted in phenomenology and incarnational theology, the book gives primary focus to the body as it considers the prayer offices and the liturgical calendar, sacrifices and sacraments, initiation and vestments, ritual theory and play, word and meal, fasting and feasting, penance and celebration, rites of passage, cultural perspectives, and the role of art, music, dance, and drama in worship. The author invites readers to return to the experience of their own body through guided yogic exercises. As a text for students and liturgical practitioners, the volume gives fresh voice to the experience and practice of worship as bodily acts. Embodied Liturgy is a dynamic, accessible new resource in liturgical and sacramental theology from one of the premiere scholars in the field. Frank C. Senn distills an established legacy of expertise in an innovative and inviting perspective on bodily acts of worship.”
Thanks to John Witvliet, Amy Schifrin, Simon Chan, Emil Salim, and Jeffrey Truscott for writing such nice endorsements.
Frank Answers in the New Book
Since the material in the book originated as classroom lectures, there were questions from the participants. I recollected some of the questions asked and answers given when I expanded the course material into a book. Questions and answers for each chapter are appended to the book. Here’s the first Q & A.
Question: Much of our Reformed worship is singing songs and listening to the sermon. We don’t use all the body actions that you demonstrated. Should we be moving (no pun intended) to include more of the senses and physical postures in our worship?
Answer: I’m convinced that many people today (at least in western culture) are more focused on the body than they used to be. They run. They bike. They go to health clubs. They even try out yoga classes. Their kids are all in youth sports. To some extent this is to compensate for the fact that our life styles have become more sedentary. We spend too much time in awkward physical positions at our computers and driving cars and people know it. People are looking for ways to get exercise and move their bodies. I think the more embodied our worship is, the more it will engage the worshipers. It is difficult to change from one style of worship to another, but you could prepare people for more embodied experiences of worship by pointing out that singing and listening are also bodily activities.
Errata, Unfortunately (added January 2, 2017)
Publishers and authors want their product free of errors. The editorial process tries to be as thorough as possible. But even with several pairs of eyes looking over the pages, mistakes appear. Some occur just in the process of printing. I hope too many people didn’t receive a copy with this messy back page. One of my friends received this copy and sent me a photo of it.
Reading through the published product first in print and then on Kindle (it helps to see the print in different formats—even on the iphone!) I found some missing or mangled punctuate marks, improper spacing, and other typos. Authors are the worst proof-readers because we see what we think it should be. But we do bear some responsibility because there are matters of content usually only the author knows and should catch. Here’s a list of errors in content with corrections italicized.
p. 18. middle of page – “Bhakti is the devotional service performed by the devotee to his or her deity; it was what Arjuna should render to Krishna. (Typing unmindfully I had Arjuna rendering bhakti to himself.)
p. 20. middle paragraph – “The so-called Athanasian Creed hammers home the idea that ‘The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet there are not three gods but One who is God.” (“One” got typed twice.)
p. 38. middle paragraph. “In deference to the Christians of Asia Minor who wanted to celebrate the annual Pascha on the actual Jewish Pesach (the fourteenth/fifteenth day of Nisan), the Council of Nicaea settled this disagreement by adding that the celebration of Christian Pascha should always be observed after the first full moon of Spring.” (I think this last phrase got deleted during editing.)
p. 44. Caption to figure 3 image – The altar triptych was painted between 1445 (not 1145) and 1450. (That would have been a long-awaited commission!)
p. 131. Caption to figure 9 images – the pastor’s name is Rickstofen Ricky, not Ricky Rickstofen. The same error is in the Index of Names. My profound apology to Rickstofen.
p. 169. In the quote from Tertullian at the top of the page – “I will not say prevent eternal torments but rather cancel them.” (My poor typing.)
p. 198. Bottom paragraph – The German word is affenspiel. (“Monkey business.”)
p. 206. Middle paragraph. The YWCA became a worldwide organization by 1898, not 1998.
p. 251. Bottom of page – The last sentence should begin “We saw in the previous lesson…” Originally chapters 7 and 8 were in reverse order and I didn’t catch this change.
p. 304. This is not an error in content, but in format. I intended the words following figure 16a to be in the smaller type used for captions. And Alfanda’s name got mangled in that paragraph.
p. 327. End of second paragraph. Can the reader guess that I meant “…and is still performed today?”
p. 354. I worked with the categories of patterns of (Protestant) worship proposed by L. Edward Phillips but cited them from his book that is not yet published.
p. 390. The title of the book by Robert Noah Calvert is “A History of Massage: An Illustrated History from Around the World.” It is not a “History of Message.”
p. 400. Middle of the page – Pastors at least should know that I refer to “a pericope system,” not to a periscope.
p. 402. Middle of the page – “[Some Roman Catholics’] desire to restore the sequence of baptism, first communion, and then confirmation is for reasons of both theology and identity.” This is the most egregious error in content because it is the reverse of the intended order.
These are errors in terms of what I intended. What I intended, of course, could be erroneous. But it would be nice to sell the inventory of the first run and have a chance for a second printing in which all the errors and typos can be corrected.
It was fun selecting images for the book but very tedious work checking on the resolutions and collecting permissions from those who appear in photos and verifying that images are in public domain. Most of the images in this book were from Wikimedia Images or Google Images. A couple were my personal photos and three or four were other people’s photos. I wish I had hunted down a few more pictures so that there would be at least one image for chapter section. But I must say that the publisher was very generous in allowing me to include as many images as I did.
Here are some samples.
The image above this post is The Baptism of Clovis, King of the Franks, in 411; it was painted ca. 1500. I thought this painting would make a good cover for the book, but marketing had already chosen something else. The editor included it at the end of Chapter 3 since the picture demonstrates “Naked Bodies, Clothed Bodies” in terms of the ancient church’s practice of naked baptisms and the splendid vestments of the liturgical ministers.
The image below this post is of Greek Orthodox boys in Tarpon Springs, Florida diving for the cross on the Feast of the Epiphany as a renewal of baptism. I discuss this custom in Chapter 7 on “Young Bodies, Healthy Bodies,” which deals with rites for youth and rites of healing.
Pastor Frank Senn