Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Another quibble

It surprises me that there's some resistance to the ritual of the laying on of hands, as done for our new UUA president, the Rev. Peter Morales, as he took office recently. Here's what Wikipedia has to say, and it's pretty clear that the ritual is not only for ordination but also to bless and to confer authority. Boy, if there's anything the UUA prez needs, it's blessing and authority! And he might need a bit of that healing property too at some point.

Wikipedia says:

The laying on of hands is a religious practice found throughout the world in varying forms. In Christian churches, this practice is used as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit during baptisms, healing services, blessings, and ordination of priests, ministers, elders, deacons, and other church officers, along with a variety of other church sacraments and holy ceremonies.

(I tried to make this gap smaller, but it didn't work. Wiki goes on...)

The tradition of the laying on of hands has its roots in the times of the bible. The laying on of hands was an action that conferred blessing or authority. To wit, Isaac blessed his son Jacob by laying hands (Genesis 27), and Aaron and the High Priests who succeeded him transferred the sins of the Children of Israel to a sacrificial goat (Leviticus 16:21). Finally, in the Old Testament priests were ordained by the laying on of hands.

In the New Testament the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (See Acts 8:14-19). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as believers who were called to a particular service. (See Acts 6:5). In the early church, the practice continued and is still used in a wide variety of church ceremonies, such as the ceremony of confirmation, where a bishop, priest, or minister lays hands on the confirmand and prays for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Many churches also lay hands on a person when commissioning them to particular work, such as missionary or pastoral service.

In its healing form, the laying on of hands is based on biblical precedent set by Jesus. Jesus would walk for days, offering his healing power to peasants and whores, alike. Both Christian and non-Christian faith healers will lay hands on people when praying for healing, and often the name of Jesus is invoked as the spiritual agency through which the healing of physical ailments is believed to be obtained.

Me again: to be sure, the ritual of laying-on-of-hands has been primarily reserved in UUism for the act of ordination and I can understand the questions, but it seems to me that a bit of googling would reveal the definition to be bigger than objectors might have thought.


12 comments:

fausto said...

I think the concern is not whether laying-on-of-hands is inappropriate under the circumstances per se in an absolute sense. Rather, it is whether practicing it in this context is consistent with our own traditional use of the practice, and if not, whether the implications of the departure from tradition are significant.

I very much suspect that the practice of laying on hands in a denominational rather than congregational setting is indeed a departure from our traditional practice. If the departure is intentional, I think that raises one set of significant issues involving evolution of our theology and polity, but if it is unintentional, that raises another set of significant issues involving the theological and historical qualifications of our leaders.

Jess said...

Much my thoughts, too, plus the fact that the worship service that everyone is complaining about was exactly what everyone who was there really needed after the campaign, or at least that was my sense of the room. Quite simply the most moving and healing moments of the entire General Assembly.

Chalicechick said...

My impression is that the healing nature was very much a matter of opinion. The person who described it in the most detail to me was writing about it to complain about it, that the crowd was expected to hold hands for an uncomfortably long time and that the ritual aspect seemed theatrical.

Amazing how different people experience these things differently.

What bugged me was that immediately Morales released a statement assuring us that his victory "belongs to all of us" because his ideas are so darn great and because we all share a vision. I recall thinking "Actually, no, some of us are quite bitterly disappointed and do not immediately believe that a victory for you is a victory as a denomination as a whole."

I can see Jess' point that to some the ritual could be healing, but to me, both the lengthy and dramatic passing of the stole and his post-election message strike me as self-indulgent and tiresome and have added to my impression that it will be a long eight years.

CC

ms. kitty said...

Of course, of all of us commenting (at least I think so), only Jess was present.

Chalicechick said...

I was not there, but the person I was quoting was.

CC

Jess said...

Like I said in my post on this, I think the service and the ritual also had a profound effect on Rev. Morales, taking the "victory" part out of the equation, which is part of what I felt was so important about it.

Chalicechick said...

Well, the "victory" aspect remained in the letter he posted that night. Which might well have been written in advance, I will admit, though I would think that he would take it down if he disagreed with its tone.

My source was near the woman who fainted after she'd been standing for half an hour.

CC

Diggitt said...

I'm with Fausto's comments. I am also troubled by the need and/or precedent for a long religious service for the passing of an administrative torch. If our president is not our pastor-in-chief (and has been noted, UUA rules do not construe the job that way, nor do our congregations' members) a triumphal investiture is out of place.

When the RCs turned the mass around so the priest faced the congregation, it caused an uproar great enough that some people still stew about it today, a half century later ... even though it was a thought-out rational gesture with a purpose. As UUs blunder around, creating liturgies by borrowing a little here and picking up a bit there, it seems as capricious as buying a paperback at the airport. Who do we think we are? Do we have a clue?

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. I'm on my way out of town in the morning and don't know how soon I'll be able to moderate comments or post, since I intend to kick up my elderly heels at my 50th high school reunion over the weekend. But I appreciate your thinking.

It does occur to me that laying on of hands is right straight out of the Christian tradition, a tradition we either wish to be better respected or hate with a passion. Interestingly, some of those who are disapproving of its use in this context are very committed to the Christian tradition as UUs.

Always surprises from perfectly lovely and rational human beings!

uuMomma said...

I was there. Hated it. For many reasons. Uncomfortable--not just physically. It took too long. And, I tried to say this at Boys in the Bands but it didn't come out right, but it made me angry because it seemed to try to encourage me to get over my disappointment too fast, as a supporter of the other candidate. I think we should allow people to work through their own disappointment without these weird, uncomfortable and forced moments of, for lack of a better word, "cumbayah". Hows that?

fausto said...

It does occur to me that laying on of hands is right straight out of the Christian tradition, a tradition we either wish to be better respected or hate with a passion. Interestingly, some of those who are disapproving of its use in this context are very committed to the Christian tradition as UUs.

Unitarianism and Universalism themselves likewise come "right straight out of the Christian tradition". But the "Christian tradition" is not monolithic and uniform, and neither is it an artist's palette from which we are free to paint any colors we like. We are the heirs to a very particular and idiosyncratic expression of the Christian tradition, forged in the increasingly specific crucibles of the Reformed Protestant movement, New England Puritanism, Enlightenment rationalism, and two 19th-century "Unitarian controversies". The result is that, when we practice our Christianity, it is not a generic one-size-fits-all Christianity or a cafeteria take-what-you-like Christianity, but it is the focused, denominationally characteristic Christianity of our own denominational ancestors. They were Reformed by tradition and congregational by polity, and heterdox in their christology and/or soteriology, and those are the traditions and strictures we still observe when we covenant, call, ordain, and perform various other functions that have been passed down to us by inheritance rather than selectively accreted from outside influences. To adopt a practice that may have a place in some other Christian tradition, but has heretofore been rejected in our own, is to reject rather than affirm the "living tradition" in which we were forged.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"The result is that, when we practice our Christianity, it is not a generic one-size-fits-all Christianity or a cafeteria take-what-you-like Christianity, but it is the focused, denominationally characteristic Christianity of our own denominational ancestors. They were Reformed by tradition and congregational by polity, and heterdox in their christology and/or soteriology, and those are the traditions and strictures we still observe when we covenant, call, ordain, and perform various other functions that have been passed down to us by inheritance rather than selectively accreted from outside influences. To adopt a practice that may have a place in some other Christian tradition, but has heretofore been rejected in our own, is to reject rather than affirm the "living tradition" in which we were forged."

Fausto,

First, from your words, I'm betting that you would disapprove of the fusion of Bishop Carlton Pearson's Pentacostal Christian congregation with the UU congregation in Tulsa OK.

Bishop Pearson was originally ordained by the Church of God in Christ.

After discovering Christian Universalism for himself, Pearson became denominationally credentialed as a UCC minister. However, his congregation was shrinking due to the apparent popularity of hellfire and brimstone when compared to Universalism.

Pearson's congregation merged with All Souls UU in Tulsa and they now have Pentacostal worship practices mixed in with the UU worship practices more commonly associated with our worship.

Since Pentacostal Christianity isn't rooted in the Reformed congregational tradition that you speak of, would you call these changes in Tulsa a rejection of our "living tradition"?

If we can be flexible enough to accept Pentacostal worship in a UU congregation, perhaps we can be flexible enough to provide a blessing for the person who was recently elected as our President?