What would Christian political engagement look like if we understood ourselves as “middle voiced,” neither wholly active nor wholly passive, which is to say, as fundamentally liturgical beings? Both Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward call to attention the political, moral and ethical grounds for a Christian agency informed through liturgical mediation. To begin here, at the point where we regard ourselves as liturgical beings – existing “a little lower than than the angels” – opens up new forms of political engagement.

Pickstock discusses the grammatical uses of the “middle voice” among ancient cultures and how this category was used to express humanity’s unique role of mediating the divine through a liturgical self. Given humanity’s mediating role, it becomes difficult to delineate where human and divine action begins or ends. On the one hand, the liturgical self cannot be seen as fully active because it is God who always initiates action. This much is absolutely clear. But this does not entail that the self is therefore fully passive, since humanity is “characteristically representative,” given to express “the mediation of the divine by human action” (After Writing, 35; “Liturgy, Art and Politics,” 161-2). It belongs to our nature to express the divine initiative, but in such a way that it is must fundamentally ours without ceasing to be God’s. Herbert McCabe expressed this paradox best: “to say that God can only make creatures who are passive before him is to lessen his divine dignity; it belongs to God and to God alone, who is closer to me than I am to myself, that his activity can be mine without ceasing to be his” (The New Creation, 142).*

Graham Ward takes this sense of the liturgical self further. Similar to Pickstock’s analysis of the middle voice, Ward discusses the implications of the Johnannie chiasmus – “he dwells in me, and I in him.” According to Ward, this chiasmus is indicative of the role Christian action and political engagement. Christ’s words here amount to a “complex coabiding,” ultimately pointing to the fact that “our desire for God participates in God’s desire for us – not only for us but also for the redemption of the word.” (The Politics of Discipleship, 192). This latter part validates Christian agency because the chiasmus is ultimately rooted within the divine economy: “the Christian act is integral to the church’s participation in the operations of the Triune God within realms created in and through Christ as God’s Word” (PD, 184). Discipleship is therefore the continuing work of mediating Christ’s body.

Because we are fundamentally “middle voiced” creatures or those living within a “complex coabiding,” we never have an ultimate grasp on our actions; our being simply will not allow it. But neither are we fated toward an indeterminate future or a lack of agency altogether. Rather, living en Christo means that “human action participates in a divine soteriological providence” (PD, 196). As liturgical beings, we are tasked to articulate (i.e. to act upon, toward and with) the transcendental categories of whatever speaks God’s presence: the good, the beautiful and the true. “In such a laboring,” writes Ward, “the agent is priestly, the act liturgical, and the object sacramental because each participates in the unfolding of God’s grace” (PD, 195).

It’s notable, I think, that Ward and Pickstock are not haunted by the specter of Feuerbach, nor do they demonstrate an allergy to “religion” when discussing agency. Perhaps this is because they begin with an appeal to our higher nature; that is, our nature as being-toward- deification rather than our fallen state. But it might also be because they take more seriously, if not more literally, the materiality of the Spirit and the Body, here and now.

*Klaus Haros’s Letters to Father Jaakob expresses best this Augustinian paradox of the interchange between original God’s gift and the mediating role we play with one another, such that the gift ultimately becomes our own and was there all along.