July 31, 2015
Dancing in Church
I attended a high school dance program a while back. This was at a school that focuses on expressions through the arts. I was there to particularly see a member of the church in one of her final high school performances. Many of the dances of that night had been choreographed by students, and I applaud their creativity. Although some dances moved me more than others, perhaps more a reflection of my responses to musical tastes than the choreography, I was nevertheless quite impressed with the thought and hard work that went into each dance.
I actually took a class in seminary many years ago on the fundamentals of dance. One of my professors, Doug Adams, was in the process of expanding his teaching from a focus on worship and preaching to an engagement with the arts in worship and the life of the church. He had even written a book entitled, Dancing Christmas Carols. I was interested in learning more, and though I have no grace on the dance floor I am grateful to have learned a little bit about the discipline and strength and creativity of dancers.
Including dance as an expression of the Sprit in worship is an interesting exploration. I have experienced sacred dance in several settings. There have been times when the choreography has been remarkable and the interpretation has been beautiful. There have been other instances when I have appreciated the hard work and creativity, but the interpretation made no sense to me. Movement itself can be beautiful, and flowing with the Spirit is always appropriate to worship, but for dance to be effective in worship it must connect with people. Perhaps some of that happens as a church regularly includes sacred dance in its gatherings and the interpretive movements become a language that the congregation speaks.
Welcoming any of the arts into worship requires a willingness to engage with them. In most churches, people are ready and willing to sit and listen to a message from the preacher. They come to worship making that commitment of time and presence because they believe that they will hear something that will touch their lives. Of course, if the content or delivery is poor, or the length is much more than a television series segment, then their engagement declines. But just as listening to a sermon takes some commitment on the part of the hearers, so too the introduction of the arts into worship asks for people to open themselves to whichever art form is being shared. Whether it is dance or poetry, visual art or a movie clip, to include the arts in worship requires engagement in order for them to have an impact. The use of the arts in worship invites people to step aside from the busy rush of their daily lives and to actually spend time with something, to dwell with something for a time. Of course, doing that is one more way of saying that we are willing to spend a little time being open to God and the movement of the Spirit. To come and worship is to say that we are willing to take time out of our week in order to be open to God in our lives.
July 24, 2015
Listening to the Trees
I took time the other day to sit for a while and listen to the trees. It was remarkable. Did you know trees speak? Oaks, maples, jacarandas, they all speak. Of course, sometimes they just rest. Sometimes they stand in silent repose, perhaps majestic by their size, perhaps inspiring in their beauty. But when the wind begins to flow, softly and gently so that leaves rustle, or so strongly that the leaves shout a cacophony, then trees speak.
It reminds me of the account in the book of Acts (chapter 2) when the Holy Spirit is evidenced among the disciples through the presence of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. I’ll let the fire image go for now as we are currently praying for firefighters as they work to control fires in several areas. But the wind that flowed into the disciples and empowered them to speak in all the languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem on that day, is the same wind that enables trees to talk.
I know, we could scientifically explain away those talking trees, but then we would miss the movement of the Spirit and we would lose the mysterious voices of those trees. To open our selves to those voices, however, is to unleash the potential for new life in our souls. It is God still speaking to us. On Pentecost, with the mighty wind and tongues of fire, the message each of the disciples delivered was clear and consistent. There was no mistaking that message. Yet, those who heard them speak that day still needed to dwell with what they heard. They still needed to take within them what the Spirit had to say uniquely to each of them. We too need to sit for a while and just listen to the wind of the Spirit, in order to discern what God is saying to us, to understand what message is being given to us.
It takes time, yes, but the Spirit is waiting. Perhaps there is a tree nearby waiting as well.
July 17, 2015
The Church of Words
The opening worship of a recent conference was filled with words. There were more songs than I can rightly remember without searching for the order of worship. Some I liked. Some of them were not my favorites. One of them was new to me and I will take it with me to my own worship gatherings. But even with the grandeur of an organ and a piano, there were a lot of words.
Then there were the scripture readings (the Protestant churches have often said that we are a people of the Book). Of course, needed announcements worked their way into the flow. Then there was the sermon. It was creative, insightful, humorous at times. It was a good time of worship.
But what struck me was the abundance of words. Now, to be fair, this was a conference for writers, who use words, sometimes well and sometimes poorly, but who use words. One would expect words at a conference for writers.
The time of worship, though, could have been more than words. The setting didn’t really encourage that something more – no stained glass to invite color into the space and to welcome the imagination to float in that color – nothing of the visual to open up other senses, with the exception of the magnificent organ front and center behind the central, raised pulpit. That pulpit says it – words are central in that space. I love words, but the worship would have been enriched by something more.
A splash of color, even absent stained glass windows, could have had a profound impact. Even something as simple as images projected on a screen would have added to the time, although there was no screen in evidence. Art, dance, even the use of words in poetry would have made a difference.
It takes time, effort and creativity to draw the arts into worship gatherings. I don’t do that every time we gather in my home church, although the stained glass windows do always bring in color. But I look for ways and times to bring in more than words. We are more than just our minds and our thoughts. We are affected by a wide variety of experiences. The arts open up our senses, and our minds too, in ways that words alone cannot do.
I am grateful for that time of worship, precisely because it reminds me that I want to strive for greater creativity in our gatherings. I will always use words, but want to enhance the hearing of words through the appeal to our other senses. We are given many gifts to use in worship. Our words are but one of those gifts.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.