Today, we released the second installment of an experimental art collective known as ‘The Liturgists.’ All the music on this project was written by us (Lisa and I), but we were lucky enough to collaborate on this release with some amazing people like Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, Amena Brown (the poet Gungor has toured with before), Aaron Purdy (the music guy at Bloom), and of course, Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike). Since we have been focusing most of our touring and marketing energy on the ‘I Am Mountain’ album, we’ve kind of done these releases quietly, but I just wanted to tell you guys a little more about this project, because I’m really excited about the work we are doing.
The plan is for us to release a monthly ‘liturgy’ this year and then maybe record or re-mix some sort of ‘best of’ from the year for our first full scale album release next year.
This particular month (Garden) is based around Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Each day has a spoken word piece that I take and do some scoring and sound designing with. There is also a liturgical song for each day that we hope is useful for both individuals and communities to engage with. Then we finish the liturgy out with a spiritual ‘practice’. This month’s practice is the second installment of ‘Centering Prayer’ with Science Mike.
To help you understand why we are releasing this stuff as The Liturgists rather than Gungor, you’d have to get into my idealistic head a little bit. The short of it is that while the earlier Gungor stuff definitely had more of a ‘liturgical’ bend to a lot of the music; the reality is that Gungor has also always primarily been a performing arts entity and not a purely liturgical one. Liturgy means ‘work of the people’, and I’ve had ideas about what a more purely liturgical collective could be about for years. We finally are doing that, and letting Gungor free to roam in other artistic frontiers.
In dreaming about what the Liturgists should be, I actually wrote a sort of ‘manifesto.’ Here it is:
The great mystics, sages and theologians of history have always espoused that all of life is sacred. While the power-hungry and money-lovers within religious power systems may find incentive to parse life into clear-cut categories like “sacred” and “secular”, we, the Liturgists, firmly reject this sort of categorization, insofar as it leads to a destructive domestication or heirarchal dissolution of the exquisite oneness and wonder of existence. We reject the notion that singing about “God”, for instance, is somehow more inherently “sacred" or “spiritual" than singing about romance, money, or any other aspect of human life.
Still, there is something to be said for the specifically termed “religious”, “sacred”, or “liturgical” practices that human beings have consistently experimented with and bonded themselves to over millennia for the purpose of more fully experiencing and making sense of the incomprehensibility of our existence. “Spiritual" disciplines (practices like silence, meditation, prayer, fasting, feasting, alms-giving, Eucharist, study, corporate worship…etc) have been found to be invaluable for countless people in enriching life to be more fully enjoyed and experienced. The use of the word 'spiritual' here is not meant to imply that only certain parts of life are spiritual. On the contrary, a healthy practiced spiritual discipline leads one to seeing the spirituality and sacredness within the mundane. In spiritual disciplines or sacrament, mere silence becomes the voice of God, and a dry piece of bread becomes the very Body of Christ.
It is in this line of thinking that the Liturgists begin our work.
There have been a long line of musical composers through history who have composed musical works intended for specifically “sacred” or “religious” purposes. From the plain-song and Gregorian chant of the medieval times to the grand masses composed by the master composers of the Renaissance and Baroque periods to the hymns written in the centuries following the Protestant Reformation, there has been music written for the specific purpose of church ritual and worship.
While the art form of composition for the specific function of worship and ritual has largely fallen out of fashion in mainstream Western Culture for the last couple of centuries, the Liturgists exist to explore new artistic possibilities within liturgical space.
There is a challenge to this since the most popular and common music in our day and age generally falls into a modernized version of the ancient Greek ideal of self-expression. This is, of course, a valid and potentially beautiful function of art. Still, there are billions of people in the world that gather weekly for the purpose of religious ritual and worship. Every Sunday, millions of people across the globe sing songs together for the purpose of prayer, spiritual discipline and encountering the Divine.
Unfortunately, it is arguable that much of the artistic material incorporated into these gatherings is not thoughtfully created or executed. Rather, like corporate jingles, hotel room paintings, Disney cartoon songs or any number of musical expressions designed primarily to carry a “message”, there is often a temptation to resort to what is safely vanilla and imitative of what has already been successful in popular culture. We, the Liturgists, seek to overcome this temptation and become a community of progressive musical composers, poets, preachers, filmmakers and other artists who work together to create 'good' (thoughtful, creative, hopeful and evocative) liturgical work.
These four pillars, thoughtfulness, creativity, hopefulness and evocativeness, are what shall guide us as we create liturgical art and space.
So that’s some of what we’ve been up to lately. Hope you enjoy it! If you want to check out the work, you can go to theliturgists.com It is also available for download on iTunes or Bandcamp.