Yesterday Christine Sine posted some thoughts on her blog in a post entitled“What is Worship?” In it she talks about a blog series she hosted over the summer about worshipping God in the real world…and admits that she was a bit disappointed with the response she received from people:
Most of the posts were about traditional spiritual practices like praying and singing hymns in the midst of everyday life. Now don’t get me wrong, I think that these are very important, but what I was really hoping for were more contributions that unpacked the ways that we can worship God through ordinary everyday acts of life like taking a shower, walking in the park and even reading the newspaper.
She goes on to discuss that we have a really difficult time thinking outside of the proverbial box, but that we need to in order to take church/worship outside the boxes of tradition we have confined them to. ”To do so,” Christine says, “we must constantly encourage our worship leaders to become worship curators…. Unfortunately this is never easy because it means we also need to take theology outside the boxes in which we have placed it.” She then asks to hear thoughts regarding these topics, about how we move our understanding of worship outside the church box and into the world.
Now this is something I think about and practice quite often, especially because I’m not all that musically inclined. Granted, I was in a concert choir for 8 years and I took a guitar class, and I have a wealth of information in my brain about musical groups and the stories behind songs…but I couldn’t play guitar and sing at the same time to save my life. I can’t keep a steady rhythm going for more than a handful of beats. I LOVE music…but creating it is not my gift.
This serves as somewhat of a ‘wrench in the cogs’ when music is the primary medium through which worship is done in the church. This is most likely because music is one of the only art forms the church has considered “safe,” and it’s a form in which it is fairly obvious to figure out how other people in the church body can participate (i.e. sing along). As I said above: music is a deeply rooted and integral part of my life…but it’s not by any means my primary form of worship.
Worship for me happens during the tending of my terrariums or while doing a water change in an aquarium, or snorkeling down in the river or at the lake. And as I do so, the lines blur between the micro and the macro…the “inside” and the “outside.” In that way these glass boxes of plants and fish and water serve as icons of prayer for me, leaping pads into the wider world and an awareness about ecosystems and our understanding/tending of them.
Worship for me is rarely accompanied by music, save the notes and melodies of pure awe, wonder and mystery that accompany such experiences. It is a form of prayer without words, a form of prayer that focuses on being in God’s presence and saturated with the sacredness of such a resplendent creation.
Maybe the next age of worship leaders won’t be musicians or performance majors…or even be found on a stage. Maybe they’ll be elbow-deep in a compost pile or hundreds of feet above the ground exploring canopy ecosystems or have a sweaty brow as they prepare jar upon jar of preserves to give purely as a gift to those in the neighborhood.
That would perhaps be a more true liturgy (“work of the people”) than many of us currently experience during a Sunday morning service.
Perhaps the next worships leaders–if we have eyes to see them and ears to hear then–will act more as field guides to the wild world we inhabit, pointing out the thin places of creation and helping us become aware of the bushes burning all around us.
What if churches incorporated living walls inside or outside of their buildings? What if, near sanctuary vessels of water for people to dip their fingers into, the element was balanced by an aquarium of local fish species which served as a reminder of watershed health and our “neighbors” which aren’t, in fact, human but to whom we are still called to care for…that, as Thomas a Kempis wrote, “If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.”
What if the outside properties of our churches were used to their maximum potentials? Apiaries in the corner…bat boxes beneath the eaves…espaliered fruit trees on the outside walls…vermiculture bins near the dumpster that children help tend and turn over, and red crawlers that they get to take home to start their own at the end of VBS. What if our worship leaders were those who set up aquaponics systems in the unused and neglected portions of church basements, composing mid-winter meals of basement grown greens and tub-raised tilapia?
What if children learned first-hand about the abundance of creation during Sunday School by collecting eggs from the church’s chicken flock, and the youth group learned about building community by delivering baskets of eggs to those in the neighborhood? What if the next generation of church leadership and renewal learned how to worship through simply sitting on a bench in the park or training grapevines along a fence or watching bats flutter in the dusk of summer?
And what if, rather than pushing out one dogma/practice completely out of the way for another one, we were instead able to fuse a variety of formats and methods and practices together in our exploration of worship?
These may be tough questions for churches as they all require the taking of chances, the exploration of new ways and new methods, new experiences and the willingness to retell some of our stories in different ways than we have before. They require not only thinking “outside of the box” but, perhaps in standard Matrix fashion, for us to question whether or not there is actually a box to begin with…that there even exists a division between the “sacred” and the “mundane.”