Wednesday 25 April 2012

The Sensual Worshipper

By Artur Suski, S.J.

When we go to Church, we often tend to forget that we are both body and soul. We make efforts to block out what comes to us through the senses in order that we may all the better engage the spiritual. What ends up happening is that we see our body working against our soul. “Keep the sensual to a minimal,” you say. “Don’t add things that will pull you away from the spiritual,” you say.

But is this attitude healthy? One that should dominate our Sunday Masses? Are we not both body and soul? If so, should we not try to have a liturgy that involves both aspects, a liturgy that enables us to reach out to the Lord even through the senses? It is true that there are moments of inner contemplation in which we retreat from the senses; but for the most part, our lives do not allow for such a retreat. In that case, we have to discover how to engage the senses in such a way as to lead us closer to Jesus in our worship. A good liturgy would involve the five senses, yet in such a way as not to overwhelm us. Here are a few reflections on each of the senses:

Sight: the Lord draws us to himself through beauty. What can there be in a liturgy that is able to pull us into the mystery of God’s beauty? I am thinking of the beautiful icons of Orthodox and Eastern-rite Churches. The icon with its striking beauty draws us to contemplate spiritual truths, engaging our imagination and awakening within us the sense of wonder and awe.

Smell: have you ever walked into a Church that is completely lit by pure beeswax candles? If not, I suggest you visit St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton, Ontario. The smell of beeswax mixed with incense affects you in an inexplicable way. One is simply taken by a gentle sweetness and a fragrance that hints at purity (at least for me).

Touch: I will put body posture in this category. Kneeling, bowing down to touch the ground (as the Eastern Churches do), making the sign of the cross, standing, sitting, etc., make up the movements of the liturgy. The liturgy involves the body in such a way as to emphasize the importance of certain parts of the liturgy. We kneel out of praise and reverence because we encounter the living-God-made-flesh before our eyes. We bow before an icon because we reverence the one depicted. Do not underestimate the importance of posture, it brings a certain disposition that otherwise is not attained. This would explain why there are no LazyBoy couches in Churches.

Taste: the liturgy of the Eucharist is a sacred meal in which we are invited to enter. Sure, when we receive the body of Christ in the form of a host, we don’t experience exotic spices; rather, we experience simplicity, the ordinary, the familiar, that which nourishes, that which brings people together.

Hearing: music can either make or break a liturgy. It can either elevate our souls or make us feel miserable. The beauty of the melody (and the meaning of the words) elevates the soul, bringing excitement and often great joy. Of course, each person relates best to a certain genre of religious music, be it chant, folk music, or the standard traditional Church hymns; but whatever the genre, music is yet another sense that moves us closer to our Lord.

In the end, we should not be afraid of engaging our senses in the liturgy. Each sense has the ability to dispose us to an ever deeper encounter with Jesus in the liturgy. Don’t fight our bodies; know that it also can help lead us deeper into the mystery of God. Give ourselves freely so that the Lord might work through the senses too!

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