It has been said that prayer is the vocabulary of faith, and CWM has contributed through this path-breaking volume From the Ends of the World: Prayers in Defiance of Empire. Edited by Claudio Carvalhaes, this compilation of worship resources is written by more than a hundred professors, pastors and people involved in worship at the locations of poverty, violence, oppression, and environmental devastation.

A culmination of CWM’s “Re-Imagining Worship as Acts of Defiance and Alternatives in the Context of Empire” project during 2018-2019, the author and participants spent weeks living in four communities in Asia-Pacific Islands, Africa, Americas, and Europe dealing with issues such as immigration/refugees, drugs, land grabbing, war on the poor, militarisation experiencing oppressive and hopeless situations. Out of these encounters rose a rich and varied collection of prayers, songs, rituals, rites of healing, Eucharistic and baptismal prayers, meditations and art.

Worship to create counter imperial alternatives

Worship is fundamental to the Christian calling and spirituality. Devotional surrender provides the basis for a spiritual life that instantiates life-giving bonds in the whole of creation that is continuously killed by Empire. Worship is itself an act of rebellion as Empire demands to be worshipped. In the context of Empire, it is rather not the absence of spirituality or religiosity per se that has become the challenge, but a kaleidoscope of spiritualties manufactured by the hegemonic paradigm of neoliberal politics and economics in worship to Empire. As the book of Revelation shows, worship to the lamb that was slain subverts worship to the power and religion of empire.

As a faith community, worship is central to the calling and being of the church. Church is a community that gathers together in worship to affirm its faith in the Divine and the Divine mission of redemption and healing. Worship inspires and anoints the community to translate this mission into radical social transformation in the here and now by enabling their agency to turn the world upside down. In worship we celebrate the spirituality of resistance and reconstruction.

Prayer, according to Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, and falsehoods.” To put it differently, worship is a subversive activity that contests and overthrows the prevailing sinful order of injustice and inequality.

For Moses, the Mount Horeb experience was not only an alternative experience of theophany, it was also a tutorial for an alternative understanding of worship. The alternative experience of theophany enabled Moses to re-imagine God as the vulnerable One, deeply affected by the scars of slavery. In the vision of the burning bush Moses encountered God as a co-sufferer who was embodied in the life-stories of pain-pathos and struggles for freedom and dignity of the enslaved communities.

The sacramental and liturgical symbol of fire in the burning bush provided Moses an alternative understanding of worship. Worship should instil in the enslaved community the audacity to believe that the blazing fire of the Empire cannot destroy the beauty of life. The green leaves in the liturgy of the burning bush empowered Moses to believe in the possibility of a beyond of Egypt.

Worship is therefore a life-changing experience where we are invited to realize and denounce our power and privileges in order to become credible and authentic comrades of the communities at the margins who are engaged in the salvific mission of turning the world upside down.

Worship is our political engagement to overthrow and ruin the pyramids of economic injustice, and social exclusion such as racism, casteism, patriarchy, and heterosexism. Such discernment helps us to go beyond our binary thinking of worship and social work, and ministry and social action.

We affirm that our worship should offer a distinct form of life-giving spirituality inspired by experiences of worship in the harrowing rupture of life amidst the hopelessness and death dealing catastrophes of empire. More than just a set of religious actions carried out within the context of the gathered community worship, at its very core, worship speaks to a lifestyle involving every facet of daily living. Indigenous civilizations have continued to rival dualistic forms of spirituality and devotedness to God and offer us with gifts that inspire our cost of discipleship embodied in our whole lives together with creation as life affirming worship and praise to the God of life. Council for World Mission’s commitment to mutually challenge, encourage, and equip churches to share in God’s mission beckons us to look again at the worship life of our churches and our obedience to the mandate given by Christ.

This book will enable members of our local congregations to worship relevantly in their own context. It will help them to imagine and write worship resources from their daily experiences of pain and struggle. In that process God will not remain as distant deity but a “co sufferer” in their daily life.

We understand from all the participants that this enriching process transformed their view on worship. They mentioned that they won’t be able to continue teaching in their class on worship in the same old way. We hope and pray that a new movement of Liturgy from the Margins will emerge and grow and this book will initiate that process.

It is an invitation to resist the temptation to be co-opted by the empire, and the nerve to come out of the empire, creating counter-imperial alternatives.

This is what reviewers have to say:

“In a world divided and conquered by the forces of empire, viable alternatives require the solidarity of the exploited, the violated, and the oppressed. Unlike the solidarity of empire, which is produced from the top and demands uniformity, this book embodies a solidarity of resistance that develops from below, employing the diversity of people and the earth and building a new world.”
—Joerg Rieger, distinguished professor of theology, Vanderbilt Divinity School, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

“What should prayer and worship look like in a world that is seeming more unjust and less hopeful each day? Claudio Carvalhaes’ book shows how worship that occurs in contexts of war, poverty, dehumanisation, and hopelessness engenders courage and inspires resistance to oppressive structures. It demonstrates forcefully that worship should never be an exercise that lulls us into indifference, or even worse complacency, to injustices around us, but worship should inspire us to become catalysts for change. An essential resource for every Christian community that seeks to worship faithfully and live out its calling as people committed to justice.”
—Raj Nadella, Samuel A. Cartledge Associate Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

“As structures of exploitation and destruction amid perversions of justice assault us daily, many struggle to keep our souls able to imagine a counter-imperial way to live together. Prayer can be potent ritual action with the capacity to change communities and spiritually equip people for struggle and resistance. In this volume, we find prayers by communities and theologians from the Global South. Claudio Carvalhaes has gathered a great variety of prayers for many occasions. Some fit classical liturgical settings and are offered for specific concerns. The collection will inspire leaders to facilitate liturgical creativity and lament, and it will help people resist authoritarian cultures of repression and capitalist structures of exploitation.”
—Marion Grau, professor of systematic theology, ecumenism, and missiology; research fellow; Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society, Oslo, Norway

“This book confronts empire, not only in its centring of voices, spaces, and places that are often unheard and marginalized but also in its clear acknowledgment that even Western dominant ways of doing theology do not have the last word. The prayers and liturgies contained in this powerful and useful collection embrace the pain and injustice and the joy and beauty of such voices, places, and spaces in a way that affirms and invites the shalom of a God who acts concretely in history. It invites us as readers to do likewise as we stand in prayerful solidarity and sing the songs of freedom together with all who yearn.”
Nadine Bowers Du Toit, professor of practical theology and missiology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

“When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, they were given the Lord’s Prayer. When Claudio Carvalhaes asked those ‘from below,’ they gave to the world the prayers and liturgies lovingly curated in this book. Like the Lord’s Prayer, this collection of prayers—and the accompanying thoughts and artwork—lead us into the presence of God. By listening to the doxological cries of those who aren’t always heard, in this remarkable prayerbook we come to hear the liberating voice of God.”
—Ashley Cocksworth, senior lecturer in theology and practice; convenor, Research Group in Theology, Religion and Practice; University of Roehampton, London, UK

“‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord”‘ (John 1:23) is the existential purpose of the church. Yet, this mission is often difficult given that voices in the margin are often ignored. In this publication, postcolonial liturgical scholar Claudio Carvalhaes has taken up this important task of letting us hear this call to ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’ from God’s people in the Global South. May we then take seriously the words of Jesus when he said, ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear’ (Matthew 11:15).”
—Lim Swee Hong, Deer Park Associate Professor of Sacred Music, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, Canada

“The seeming ordinariness of a traditional book of prayers is quickly disrupted by the invasive smells, noisy hustle, fears and exuberance, cardboard houses, and ready-to-eat meals of global city streets. These street prayers reek of the aroma of Christ.”
—Steed Vernyl Davidson, professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, vice president of academic affairs, dean of the faculty, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL


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