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Book review: A Body of Praise by W. David O. Taylor

11 August 2023

Christopher Irvine looks at a fresh perspective on worship practices

THE debate about in-person and digital worship which came to the fore during the Covid pandemic continues, and this is certainly a book that can make a vital contribution to the conversation as we move to a more mixed mode experience of public worship. W. David O. Taylor wears his scholarship lightly and writes in very accessible language. But what he writes in 12 relatively short chapters is substantially supported by no fewer than 35 pages of footnotes.

Taylor writes from an American perspective, and what he writes ranges widely. Two key chapters explore the theme of the body in biblical literature, and, although an author with evident Pentecostal sympathies, Taylor includes a chapter detailing the bodily prayer practices not usually associated with Charismatic Evangelicals, such as genuflection and the signing of the cross. Balancing insights from scripture and tradition, Taylor also provides a summary scientific account of the physical human body in one chapter, and discusses the ethics of the body in another, in which he handles sensitively questions of inclusion.

Overall, Taylor delivers a convincing account of corporate worship as an embodied activity that can engage the range of our bodily senses as conduits of grace. If there is a lacuna here, it is the absence of a sustained philosophical questioning of what we mean when we speak of the body. To speak of the body of the embodied worshipper, including those worshipping digitally, simply as a “Spirit filled body” does not quite resolve the question of which body. Some bodies are not as capable as others of spontaneous movement and dance.

Similarly, there is the question how we can map the physical body at any moment in time in the human life cycle on to the “spiritual body” spoken of by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Faced with such a quandary, we may recall St Augustine of Hippo’s speculative view that our resurrected bodies will be even more beautiful than even the body we had when our mortal bodies were at their best. There is a discontinuity here, if not a disjunction, between the physical and the spiritual body.

With the return to “in-person” worship, many of us recognised a loss of “muscle memory” in the ritual of worship, those bodily actions that can orientate the person to the triune God. But, however important an appreciation of the bodily dimension of corporate worship is, as the Sursum Corda reminds us, it is, in the final analysis, our hearts and minds that are to be lifted to the heavenly places in the offering of the Church’s sacrifice of praise.

The Revd Christopher Irvine is Priest-in-Charge of Ewhurst and Bodiam, and Rural Dean of Rye, in Chichester diocese, and teaches at Sarum College and the Liturgical Institute, Mirfield.


A Body of Praise: Understanding the role of our physical bodies in worship
W. David O. Taylor
Baker Academic £22.99
Church Times Bookshop £20.69

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