Book review: 'By Our Rites of Worship' is an illuminating academic perspective on ritual
Whether creating a sacred experience through personal small-scale routine habits like prayer or participating in an undeniably sacred although more esoteric large-scale experience like the temple ceremonies, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live lives abounding in ritual.
As editor, Daniel L. Belnap has compiled a new book, "By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in Scripture, History and Practice," exploring some of Mormonisms' rituals through a spirit of scholarship.
It begins by tackling the connotations of ritual as belonging to others and reframing practices of ritual as being either a part of simple or grandiose performance. Ritual is also seen as an act that delineates social expectations of behavior and creates a sense of community revolving around the sacred.
Belnap organizes the remainder of the book into sections comprised of several articles from 15 different scholars, including Robert Millet, Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt and Walter E. A. van Beek, that explore ancient Near Eastern rituals, the rituals of early Christendom, and modern rituals as they intersect with the beliefs and practices of the LDS Church.
Of these articles, Alonzo L. Gaskill unfolds the ritual of removing a shoe as a symbol of divesting oneself of property as found in the Old Testament narrative of the courtship of Ruth and Boaz. He then juxtaposes this ritual with the ritual of removing one's shoes in sacred places and infers that this ritual is still alive today for those who would exchange their world for that of a holy one.
Also illuminating is Jonathan A. Stapley's discussion of how the Mormon rituals surrounding attending the sick have evolved during the course of the last 200 years. He documents the administrations of consecrated oil both internally and through annointing, the use of temple baptism as a form of healing and the ongoing, "innovation and change" healing rituals have undergone in the last 100 years.
A welcomed addition to the book would have been a section exploring the ongoing shift of symbols and the statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith that "the gospel has always been the same; the ordinances to fulfill its requirements, the same, and the officers to officiate, the same; and the signs and fruits resulting from the promises, the same" (see page 403).
As an academic work, this volume is geared toward those who desire to seek learning "by study."
Miranda H. Lotz is a military wife, mother of five and book lover who currently lives in Colorado Springs. She blogs at www.timeinthevineyard.blogspot.com
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