Teresa Berger’s Women’s Ways of Worship was a surprising book for me. Based on the title alone, I approached the book cautiously, entirely expecting to push through an approach to liturgy I disagreed with. Though the final chapters of the book did live up to my initial expectations, in the first part of Berger’s work I found my mind opened to a new way of thinking about the architecture of time as it relates to bodies in worship of God. Though we worship together as the Body of Christ, each member of the Body comes with an embodied rhythm of life that experiences the liturgy in different ways.
In the first section of her book, Berger points out that women experience time differently from men. She means this not in the sense that time moves more quickly or more slowly for women, but that women experience different life milestones than men. In the start of menses, pregnancy, menopause, etc. women mark their life experience differently. Liturgical worship calls our physical bodies to remembrance. As such, a reflection on how to better integrate women’s life experiences into the Divine celebration of Christ’s Body is needed in the church.
As I reflected on the nature of time highlighted by Berger, I took her notion further. Outside of generalizations of the gender binary, everyone experiences time in his or her own way. A poor male farmer in Iowa experiences time and marks life very differently from a wealthy female lawyer in Amsterdam. For one, time is marked by seasons and periods of drought and abundance. For the other, time is marked by great cases lost and won. Though humanity can be grouped and classified, each person experiences and marks life in his or her own way. There are billions of individual personal liturgies of remembrance.
Contra some in the women’s liturgical movement, I question if a liturgy for each person is what is needed to worship God. If the Eucharist is a celebration and remembrance of our unity with Jesus as his living body on earth, then it makes no sense to celebrate unity as individuals. The liturgy of the Church binds us together across time and space. The Iowan farmer and the Amsterdam lawyer pray together from their unique and varied experience. Though there is space for reflection on the liturgy to ensure that it is not used as a fence to keep some out, opening a season of a thousand individual liturgies is not a reflection of the unity we experience in Christ and his Church.
Berger, Teresa. Women’s Ways of Worship: Gender Analysis and Liturgical History. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1999.