Day: May 6, 2009

the ethics of worship

You’ve probably bumped up against this classic Hauerwas moment (from The Truth About God) around the blogosphere:

One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.

Oliver O’Donovan draws a similar connection between worship and ethics when he nominates the Lord’s Day as the third of his four sacraments in Desire of the Nations (that’s right, four sacraments — count ’em!). For O’Donovan the resurrection of Jesus enables both the drawing out our hearts to God in joyful worship and our full-blown moral transformation.

His 2007 New College Lectures made much the same point as he reconstructed the trajectory of a right response to reality — from it germination in a sense of wonder to its flowering in rational deliberation and moral action.

What I find so compelling about this is how close it comes to traditional accounts of our aesthetic response to beauty.

Got to love the view from our balcony!

Got to love the view from our balcony!

This sense of connection between awed adoration and moral action strikes me as endlessly suggestive. Especially in raising questions about the place of art and beauty in the Christian life. Consider the vice lists and household codes in Scripture. The list that one commentator dubs ‘the five habits of highly destructive people’ in 1 Peter 2.1, for example, doesn’t just tell us what kind of behaviour displeases God; the words it piles up paint a vivid picture how ugly this lifestyle is.

I guess the challenge before us is to mine this rich imaginative vein so that we don’t just see what is right but are gripped by its goodness and thrilled by its beauty…