upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Worship is Worship - What I Want in Worship

Worship is Worship. Well, that might seem self-evident, but in actuality we have done a pretty good job of transforming worship in to all kinds of things except worship.

I don't like to make universal claims - okay, I do, but they aren't very helpful...who am I, after all? I don't like to make universal claims so I'll just speak about what worship is to me and, as a leader of worship, what I hope for during worship services.

I want worship to be special time - sacred time - and to be held in a special place - sacred space: If I am to come into the presence of the HOLY HOLY HOLY, then certainly time and space are different from when I do other things and I am different from how I am when I meet other people/things. I don't think that a church has to have gothic architecture to meet this criterion or that a sanctuary has to have an eternal flame, altar candles, pews, and a pulpit, but something has to mark this space as separate from other space. Of course the goal is to see the sacred nature in all things - the God in all things - but the goal is also to honor a God who is more that all things. I also love the church calendar and I love that it is different from the annual calendar. Churches would do a much better job of reaching into the hearts and souls of people if we celebrated the church calendar more wholly rather than cramming it with all kinds of non-church items.

Worship is ritualistic and therefore repetitive. Repitition doesn't have to be boring. It sure can be boring: "Bueller? Bueller?" However repetition can be inspiring and calming: "I have a dream...." What makes repitition work is whether it's performed with intentionality. Few things sadden, anger, and disappoint me like rituals poorly performed, dead, without joy. Are rituals understood by those performing them? Are they rushed and hurried? Are prayers "prayed" or read? For example, the Lord's Prayer is a prayer not a recitation or words. Enfuse rituals with intention, joy, and care. Then the repitition invites us into something familiar to our hearts.

Worship is both joyful but not chaotic and quiet time is not dead time. I have been in too many worship services that confuse noise for joy. Chaos, noise, and overstimulation are not the same things as joy. I have also been in worship services that are deader than a door nail. Slow and dead are not the same as intentional and reverential. I find meditation important for worship services to reach into my soul, but intentional quiet time is different from dead time. Get it right and it makes a real difference.

Worship is participatory; it is not a spectator sport. A lot of worship services have attempted to become participatory by using "culturally relevant" music, images, and media. I know this works for a lot of people. Most of the time it does not work for me. I feel like I'm at a concert; and while concerts are highly participatory, they are things that I consume. They are consumerist based. Worship is not something to "consume," to "purchase," or to "meet my needs." Worship invites my whole being into a separate world where God's kin-dom is manifest so that I might return replenished to this world where it has yet to come fully. Worship reminds me that I am needed and necessary as a part of the body of Christ. Worship requires me to use my mind, my body, and my heart.

These are just a few things that help worship to be meaningful for me. I know that I'm getting old now and that I'm no longer part of the demographics that count, but am I alone? I can't believe that I'm the only one out here who still wants sacred space, quiet prayer, the occasional organ, incense, chanting, musical variety, discreet media, and an emphasis on the sacraments. But sometimes I wonder...


Choralgirl said...

Terrific. Thoughtful! And I'm with you. Particularly about the "if I'm to come into the presence of the HOLY HOLY HOLY..."

My puzzle, as a worship leader, is how to keep pointing the conversation at something other than "but I like THIS _________" with people in my congregation--particularly teenaged ones.

Ideas, anyone?

rev katie m ladd said...

It's so very difficult to keep "me" out of the service - for all of us, isn't it? The biggest struggle our worships have, ironically, is to keep point to God, to keep God at their center, and to make God's praise and service primary to our gathering.

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