November 6, 2013

Objects, Anti-Objects, and Efficacious Interpretations of Prayer

[Editor’s Note: This post is part of the ongoing conversation in response to “Praying with the Senses,” Sonja Luehrmann’s portal into Reverberations’ unfolding compendium of resources related to the study of prayer.]

Partly in response to the prayer portal “Praying with the senses,” Anderson Blanton and Sarah Riccardi and Aaron Sokoll have started an interesting discussion of how to theorize the role of material objects as “media for connectivity” (Riccardi and Sokoll) or bodily “interface” (Blanton) for prayer. I agree with most of what the three authors say, but would like to use an example from my previous research on Pentecostal Christians in Russia to explain what is pushing me away from making the connective properties of sacred objects the sole focus of our exploration of the sensory workings of Eastern Christian prayer. In short, I think  that the “wow-effect” that an emphasis on materiality brings to studies of Pentecostalism and other branches of Protestant Christianity isn’t there for Eastern Orthodoxy. In Eastern Orthodoxy, as Riccardi and Sokoll point out, the significance of the material holy goes “back to key councils and writings of … saints and theologians.”


October 24, 2013

Praying Angry—A Jewish View

 [Editor’s Note: This post is in response to “Praying Angry” by Robert Orsi.]

Bob Orsi’s “Praying Angry” shows a sensitivity to the victims of clerical abuse within the Catholic Church that is much needed. Based on interviews with a circle of survivors, and particularly with a former priest, Frank, Orsi sets forth some of the difficulties such survivors have with prayer and he presents Frank’s advice to survivors.

The core of the problem for Catholic survivors of clerical abuse is the teaching that the Catholic priest is an alter Christus, someone who is elevated, as Orsi puts it, “to higher ontological levels than other humans.” This makes clerical abuse not only a human betrayal, but betrayal in the spiritual life of the believer, even if the believer continues to believe and to participate in Catholic liturgy. Jews have a completely different relationship to their clergy: Rabbis are hired, and fired, by the congregation. No one would dream of thinking of his or her rabbi as alter Deus. Rabbis are people, and they are as subject to sin as anyone else. If they sin, they need to repent, and that usually includes punishment. Clergy abuse is wrong; guilty clergy should be handled by psychotherapy and/or prosecution. Any attempt to cover up clergy abuse is wrong, and should be handled by civil suit. This is largely what actually happens in the various Jewish communities, although resistance runs higher in some than in others. It is true that spiritual leaders, beginning with Moses, face higher expectations; but they are not alter Deus.