Earlier this week, David Gelernter posted a really good article over at Big Questions Online that caught my attention. It did so because I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, who works as an aerodynamicist for a major NASCAR team, that centered on the relationship of entropy to eschatology. That is, if the world is subject to disorder and decay (Romans 8:20, yes I understand that there is much more to that verse) then what does that mean for the new creation?
Anyway, Gelernter argues that “the rituals we perform teach [us] more than the Second Law [of Thermodynamics]: they teach us to defy the Second Law.” It does this by having a constant theme in the midst of a seemingly shapeless system. That theme, in both Jewish and Christian liturgies, is separation. He argues that separation defies nature by defying death. Which I take, for him, is the great equilibrium toward which all chaos runs.
It’s a really good post, but I’d like to go further by saying that worship / liturgy / ritual is much more than simply drawing a defiant line in the sand. In worship we participate in the overcoming of chaos; the new creation in the making.
The liturgical theologian Aidan Kavanagh argues that in worship we are regularly brought to the “edge of chaos” resulting in “deep change” in the lives of the participants. These changes or “adjustments” are sometimes obvious and sometimes imperceptible, but the fact is that the worshiping community leaves differently than it was before. Like the Spirit that brought form out of chaos, through baptism brings new life out of chaos, the Spirit brings a new creation through worship. This is what happens when God “recreates the World not by making new things but by making all things new.” In fact this is the task of the Church and what happens ultimately in liturgy.
Kavanagh goes on to suggest that before modernity, cities used to be places of “transactions with ultimate reality.” They were places where ideas were formed and arts were made. With the coming of secularization, the city became profaned and no longer seen in reference to the world. The church, he suggests, offers a different view of humanity, the world, and the city. Kavanagh suggests that the Church because of its liturgy is the “central workshop of the human City, a City which under grace has already begun to mutate by fits and starts into the City-of-God-in-the-making, the focal point of the world made new in Christ Jesus.” In other words, it is both the Church and the world that have been redeemed by Christ. The church’s task is that of the reconciliation, which God did through Christ between Him and the created world. And more so, to be the embodiment in the world of the world to come, of the Kingdom, of the new and final age. What he calls the “church doing world” or enacting a “normal” world as opposed the abnormality of a chaotic world. I would argue that the normal world is not subject to chaos, (but I could be convinced otherwise).
In Political Worship, Oxford theologian, Bernd Wannenwetsch takes up this notion of the church offering a redeemed world through its liturgy. He suggests that through the liturgy we see a “double becoming of the world.”. The first is the negative becoming, distinguishing the world in a post-lapsarian sense from a good creation, and recognizes itself as that which does not worship God. The second, is a positive becoming of the world, which follows from the first and has real political significance. Insofar as worship shows the world its sinfulness, it “simultaneously makes it possible for the world to find a different kind of self-understanding, a new identity.” This new understanding is that the world is bound to the church’s worship as that which produces it. It causes the world to rightly order itself in order to make space for the church to be the church. Without doing so the world ceases to be itself. He notes that this does not cause the world to become the church, but allows it to become “the world which is no longer hostile to God and now reflects the Creator’s original will.”
There are differences between Kavanagh and Wannenwetsch. The former wants to say that the ‘world’ that is done is the church’s worship, whereas the latter wants to talk about the ontological world and its reordering that “springs” from the worship. For my purposes, I think they both help us see a fuller picture of what is going on when a (specifically Christian) community worships. It witnesses and participates in the new creation which (among other things) overcomes chaos with goodness and order.
I suppose it could be argued that order and chaos don’t necessary equal goodness and badness respectively. But in response to Gelernter, if chaos is defied in liturgy, why not go further and show how it is overcome it? Perhaps it comes down to the difference between a Jewish and Christian eschatology?
 Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology, p. 50.
 Ibid., p. 42.
 Bernd Wannenwetsch, Political Worship: Ethics for Christians, trans. Margret Kohl (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2003), p. 247.
 Ibid., p. 248.
 Ibid., p. 249.