Alternative liturgy: Social media as ritual

Liturgies are covert incubators of the imagination, because they play the strings of our aesthetic hearts. Liturgies traffic in the dynamics of metaphor and narrative and drama; they are performed pictures of the good life that capture our imagination and thus orient our love and longing. By an aesthetic alchemy, liturgies implant in us a vision for a world and way of life that attracts us so that, on some unconscious level, we say to ourselves: “I want to go there.” And we act accordingly.

To perceive the world is always to perceive it as a certain kind of space: as mere “nature” or God’s creation; as the flattened, disenchanted space for human self-assertion or the enchanted, sacramental realm of God’s good gifts; as a competitive arena for my plunder and self-fulfillment or a shared space of neighbors who beckon to me for care and compassion; as a random assemblage for which we now claim “progress” or the stage on which is played the drama of God’s gracious redemption.

The formative power of liturgies is true of liturgies in general. Both secular and Christian liturgies marshal and work on the same imaginative, aesthetic aspects of human being. The fact that we are “liturgical animals”—and hence imaginative, narrative animals—is a structural feature of creaturehood that cannot be effaced or erased, even by sin. Indeed, sinful systems exploit the same reality of our incarnate existence. If discipleship is a matter of Christian formation, and specifically the formation of the imagination, then we need to realize that these same dynamics of formation also characterize deformation. Disordered secular liturgies, ordered to a rival telos, also work on the imagination.