It’s probably not a good idea for me to read too many books like Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. (Paraclete, 2008).
After all, I have long desired a closer following of the church calendar. I have written of my love for more liturgical forms of worship. My experience worshipping with semi-liturgical Baptists in Romania whetted my appetite for more thoughtful worship.
Beyond Smells & Bells is a short book that appeals to two kinds of people. For those already in liturgical churches, Galli’s brief book will either explain to you for the first time how the liturgy intends to form you spiritually or it will renew your love for liturgy. For those not in liturgical churches, Galli’s book works as an apologetic for more thoughtful liturgy. Even though a posivite apologetic for liturgy is not his intention, Galli’s work accomplishes this promotion in an indirect way.
Galli writes that his book is for ”those who find themselves attracted to liturgy but don’t quite know why.” That’s me! So if the book is written for people like me, it’s no wonder I enjoyed it.
What I appreciate about Beyond Smells and Bells is how Galli builds on the work of Robert Webber without making liturgy out to be more important than it is (which Webber tended to do at times). Galli cautions against seeing the liturgy as a “magic potion”. He realizes that even as some people connect with God through the liturgy, others find it a terrific place to hide. Galli affirms the importance of worship space, but he wisely warns against the liturgy fan’s tendency to idolize holy places.
Galli doesn’t try to make a biblical case for high-church. Trying to prove from the Bible that churches should adopt a liturgical worship service is nearly impossible. Instead, he wisely goes in the direction of common sense. Take for instance his view of the church calendar: this “cosmic daytimer” forms the way we look at time and challenges the other calendars that we live by (including sports!).
What I find most refreshing in liturgy is the way in which “liturgy puts a break on narcissism.” Galli says, “From the beginning, you realize that this service isn’t about you.” The fact that liturgy is not seeker friendly tells us something about the transcendence of God.
There are times in Beyond Smells and Bells where Galli downplays the idea that church is about education. Instead, he sees spiritual formation taking place within the community in other ways. I fear that the role of the sermon could get lost in Galli’s emphasis on community and liturgy. To his credit, he acknowledges the role of education, but he seems to create a dichotomy between truth that is imparted by a teacher and truth that is “lived together” in the community of faith.
Surely an emphasis on historic liturgy could refresh our often-anemic worship services. But there are plenty of liturgical churches that deserve the term “dead.” I would rather be in an anemic worship service than a dead one. In many ways, Galli’s book is an attempt to keep the life in liturgy, to reestablish the good reasons for utilizing liturgy, and to renew and revive this ancient way of worshipping our Savior.
After reading this book, I realize that I am not so attracted to certain forms of liturgy, but to the rhythms of worship that flow through a liturgical worship service.
Let there be freedom and movement in worship. At the same time, let us be thoughtful about our worship.
Let us think about the rhythms of liturgical worship. And let us constantly evaluate what our worship tells us about ourselves and others about our God.
written by Trevin Wax © 2008 Kingdom People blog