Brief Book Review: The Writing Work of the People

The Writing Work of the People:
Liturgical Writing as Spiritual, Theological, & Prophetic Work
By Jill Y. Crainshaw

Who’s it for? The back cover says this book is for “All who imagine, craft, and offer worship words.” This book is for everyone who worships.

Why should you read this? Words used in worship and preaching (i.e., words that are part of the ritual and words shaped by the preacher) form the structure/s of faith. Words create life, and for that reason need careful attention.

What’s the main point? Writing is made of words, and not only do “words matter,” but “words made matter.” Think of creation (“and God said . . .”) and take it literally that matter is formed of the Word.

What intrigued me the most? Words for worship become our flesh. This happens best through “repetition, rhythm, and imagery” (p. 10). Yes!

Kudos. Jill Crainshaw has written a call to everyone who creates, leads, and assists with worship to care about the language of the assembly’s meeting. She makes the case that in many ways, words are the very structure of how we see God, ourselves, our neighbors, and our home on Earth. The words used to give praise and to lament, to intercede for the needs of the world, for singing, for reading and preaching on God’s word are critical to everyone. Lest the words of worship lead us to inaccurate (even harmful) images of God’s desire for creation, we need to spend time with words.

Applications. This book is in part a rumination on the power and beauty of words. It is also an invitation to explore the link between God’s word and your response to it through six writing exercises that lead to writing liturgical language including prayers and blessings. Engaging with the exercises is to ponder and imagine various questions designed to open up the senses, open up awareness of the physical and spiritual world/s, and expand the possible words that could be used to describe or celebrate God’s gifts. Worship leaders and preachers, especially, may find the exercises useful for enlarging vocabulary—not because Crainshaw offers optional words (although she includes some wonderful poems she has written), but because she sets forth a pathway for all people to find their own significant and appropriate words.

Next steps. A profound document from the Lutheran World Federation called the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture (1996), developed by an international and intercultural group of liturgical scholars, offers a means for creating a healthy balance in worship between cultural and religious demands. The document calls for worshipping bodies to employ elements in worship that express these four ways:

  • transcultural—because God’s truth transcends all cultures, some words for worship will everywhere reflect or refer to the same qualities of God.
  • contextual—God’s presence is expressed in the particular means of every culture such that worship will make use of familiar foods and spaces, movements, language, etc.
  • counter-cultural—God’s desire for us opposes cultural expressions that damage people and creation.
  • cross-cultural—while God is beyond culture, worship reminds us of God’s presence with all people when, in worship, we set forth reminders (music is a common means) of people unlike ourselves.

The document calls for worship to balance expressions of these four. They can be used to check the words we use in worship.

Crainshaw, Jill Y. The Writing Work of the People: Liturgical Writing as Spiritual, Theological, & Prophetic Work. New York: Church Publishing Inc., 2021. 148 pages. $18.95. ISBN: 9781640654013.

REVIEWER: The Rev. Melinda A. Quivik, PhD

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