One of the most interesting and provocative and challenging features of Solomon’s Porch, at least to me, is the interest in and working out of “embodiment” of the gospel in that local gathering of Christians. So, I’m grateful to Doug Pagitt for setting out this theme so clearly in his book, Reimagining Spiritual Formation.
What do I mean? There is some deep need for this group of Christians to “embody” what they believe and that this embodiment is both confession and evocative of the gospel itself. They are a community where artists flourish, where each person is asked to “work out faith in visible form” and where a visitor or an outsider will see and experience how these people see and experience the gospel.
Embodiment is a feature of life: we get married with rings, we enter the home with a kiss (my dog has to poke his nose against everyone who enters the house and then he feels they are marked and OK), we have special days that mark our lives and our work, and we could go on here for a long time to observe that embodiment is important to being human. So also for the Church.
Embodiment has always been a part of the gospel, and the most central and significant (still and always will be) aspect of embodiment of the gospel in the Church is the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Mass (whatever one calls it). As I tried to say in the Jesus Creed chapter on the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Supper is a powerful piece of drama — Christians watch and they participate, they see and they taste, they both observe and touch, the gospel itself. And this sort of embodiment has been a long feature of Israel’s faith — Passover being just one example. Israel always worked out its faith in physical form, and it is in this that some distinctions between biblical faith and Greek philosophy and even dualistic systems like gnosticism appear. Embodiment, in other words, is very important.
So, I’m impressed that Solomon’s Porch does not think embodiment stops with the Reformation style of the Lord’s Supper. It wants embodiment and it wants embodiment the way this generation expresses it and needs it. Including how they “do” the Lord’s Supper (intimate, democratic, etc). Art, chairs and couches in the round, open air, lack of a “stage” so the speaker can be embodied as “one of the church not over the church,” table fellowship all over the place and all kinds of times, sitting around tables for discussion, well you get it… they are full of embodiment acts that intentionally express what they think the gospel can mean today. (“Intention” is very important here; this stuff has been thought out.)
Now, one of the most interesting features of Solomon’s Porch and of many Emergent churches is that there is a drawing deeply from old orthodox and Roman Catholic “embodiment acts.” Candles and incense are only what is most often talked about. Pictures sometimes take on “iconic” missional features, and I for one think this is worth exploration for postmodern evangelicals. Solomon’s Porch had the Stations of the Cross over Holy Week — which has always been a source of nervousness for many of us (until most embraced The Passon by Mel Gibson, which sets out the last hours of Christ in the Stations of the Cross). I have my hesitations, and have my questions, but I’m willing to listen to anyone who wants to articulate a theory of Christian embodiment that knows that this world is designed by God to express the glory of God and that through physical objects we can express our worship and love of God.
Here is where Emergent has something going on that many will miss: the last blog was on “coherence as community.” Well, this is the point of embodiment too: as the community embodies the gospel and expresses most completely what it is, so also individual acts that embody other features of Christian expression are along the same line. They embody the gospel as the community embodies the gospel. This is what many want to call incarnational theology — well, I have my reservations about this term but I know what they are saying and what they are saying is important.
Let me suggest the place to begin such a discussion is with the brilliant Russian orthodox thinker, Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. I read that book long ago, and found his study suggestive and creative and insightful and full of rich, deep theological reflection. What lies fertile in this work is a theory of nature as one designed to lead us to God, as one that evokes something more, as one that tells us that “all is beyond” as we live it out in the here and now.
Next blog: Biblical and Spiritual