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Dazzling Bodies: Rethinking Spirituality and Community Formation.
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2014.
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Reviewed by Kyle A. Schenkewitz
In Dazzling Bodies, Richard Valantasis develops a remarkable vision for Christian communities through engagement with critical theory, theological discourse, and diverse ministerial contexts. His thesis is as fresh and innovative as it is steeped in the liturgical and spiritual traditions of ancient Christianity. His concern is to unbind contemporary spirituality from its individualistic tendencies and reconnect the basis of spirituality to the worshipping community. He argues that Christian spiritual practices arose out of communal life, fed and formed the community, and linked the individual members to the communal identity. The disconnect between community and spirituality has been detrimental to contemporary congregations. Dazzling Bodies proposes methods for analyzing parishes as communities in order to understand their corporate life. One aspect of this analysis is how communities use words, gestures, sounds and other signs to communicate with one another. Applying social semiotic theory, he argues, helps identify the systems of solidarity and power in the parish setting. These “diagnostic tools enable us all to understand the process of developing a spirituality while staying closely connected to our religious communities.” (xii) For Valantasis, communal spirituality is primarily communicated and shared in the liturgical worship of a parish. In the liturgy, individuals meet and are gathered together into a corporate identity, “a complex locus of individual and corporate spiritualities.” (xiii) In the rich density of the corporate liturgical performance, individual bodies become dazzling with the energetic life of the Spirit at work in the corporate body. These dazzling bodies shine forth from within the life of the community to transform the world around them.