We are just back from our monthly Aoradh ‘family day’. This is the closest we come to a ‘church service’ that we do regularly within Aoradh. It usually involves filling up one of our houses with people, then one of us will co-ordinate a period during which a selection of folk – kids and adults – will take turns to lead others through a song, a prayer, some meditation, a poem, a clip from you tube. It is simple, messy and lovely.
Then we eat together.
Today I was thinking about the distance I have travelled within the scope of what ‘church’ might mean. I was playing my guitar along with William and Rachel, and really enjoying it, because this is something I do fairly rarely these days.
There was a time when it was my whole life.
I was a ‘worship leader’ – one of those blokes (and they usually are blokes) who stand in front of people and whip up some spiritual fervour by the application of soft rock love songs to Jesus. I lived for those moments when the music took flight, and something kind of opened up. At such times, music was more than just notes. Performance became less about technique, and more about an attitude of humility and receptiveness.
But in the course of my journey from ‘organised’ church, other principles started to dominate the way I thought about worship. Primarily, I was convinced that the culture of ‘church’, with all its big and small liturgies, assumptions and traditions, easily came to be a black hole that swallowed people whole. It left us with no room for the other. It became about us, not about them. They were only important if they were willing to become like us. I was convinced that church should exist to send and to serve, not endlessly feed itself.
Our corporate worship was the same. It was all about music and preaching. Other ways if worshipping were not necessarily wrong (although some were guilty by association) but they were just not our thing. We knew what we liked and this was enough.
As I think about this now it is like a rainbow of only one colour. Still impressive, but monochrome.
It can also be so selfish, so self centred. Worship like this exists to make us feel good. The end we aim for is a spiritual/emotional high for us, dressed up in the clothes of adoration of the God that we make in our own image.
But I overstate my case. A monochrome rainbow can still be beautiful.
The word that came to sum up the change I was finding in my own aspirations in worship was this one;
By which I mean the experience of God in the ordinary. The incarnation of the maker of the universe within the temporal, messy world in which we live and love.
Transcendent moments fill our lives if we look for them. And the more we attune ourselves to the looking the more we see.
They are everywhere in the natural world; sunsets, new leaves, mushrooms in caves, the lick of new born fur, the light of the moon on still water, the smell of rain on dry earth, the sea that goes on for ever. All these things will happen whether or not we are there as witnesses. But when we look in a certain kind of way a hollow space opens up in the middle of them into which we can meet with something transcendent. Into which we can invite/be invited by the living God.
They are everywhere too where humans also are. In conversations, in touch, in the longing for justice, in the decision to forgive, in the deciding to repay hurt with love, in the listening and in the laughing. Because God is a God of communion. God commands love, and love requires direction. Perhaps above all, the transcendent God is immanent when we come together in community.
They are encountered in art, because art can become a bridge to something beyond our business. Films, books, poems, paintings, sculptures, music.
They can even be encountered in church – for me, especially when we sing, when the chordal voices find the vault of the building and make it vibrate.
I had become so trapped in a view of God that was limited to one colour of the huge spectrum from ultaviolet to infra red and beyond, that I needed to go cold turkey. The guitar needed to go away for a while so I could hear the birds sing.
So I had some time to speak to people, with no agenda other than love.
So I could be creative, and make art in service of the Creator.
How about you? Where might your ordinary space become pregnant with the extraordinary, capricious, magnificent Living God?