Years ago, in some class or other, a colleague mentioned that there was such a thing as “dissolving paper.” This paper was used, for the most part I think, in a variety of magic tricks. However, this person suggested that it could be put to use in a church setting as part of a ritual where people were invited to write down their sins, and to then watch both the paper and their sins disappear. This would of course happen in the context of sharing about the love and forgiveness that God offers to us.
As the conversation progressed, other options that focused on people’s shortcomings or failures were suggested, and we emerged with at least three different opportunities to experiment with the paper. At the time that I first heard of it, the paper was a little difficult to obtain. Now, of course, a quick Internet search, and a two-day wait, brings the paper right to one’s front door.
So, this Sunday I am going to experiment with the paper. It will be interesting to see how much people will trust the process, how willing they will be to believe that the paper will really dissolve, rather than being afraid that there could be a remnant of their “sins” laying there for others to see. The truth is that it takes thirty seconds or less for the paper to dissolve. But participating in the worship experience in this way does require a little bit of faith. And that’s okay, because entrusting ourselves, our emotions, our need for forgiveness, to God, does also require a bit of faith. So, the two experiences will likely go nicely hand in hand.
Worship times in churches need to incorporate fresh opportunities to experience God and God’s grace. Yes, people like what is familiar, even what is predictable. That being true, there needs to be a sensitivity to the ways in which new things are introduced. Nonetheless, experimenting is good, for God is continually renewing our lives if we allow that to happen. Discovering ways to open our worship celebrations to that newness can be exciting, and hopefully quite fruitful.
I am curious to see how it will go. I do have faith that God will work through it all.
Words, and the amazing ways in which they can be woven together, have a power that can touch us in the depths of our spirits. That is one of the joys that I have rediscovered as I have read a variety of books that our church book club has chosen. There are certainly some authors whose use of language moves me more than others, but in almost every book I can find some gems of language, words and phrases that speak in beautiful ways.
Our most recent book is The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. It has been a fascinating read, as the author, through his thorough research and his crafting of the tale, has brought to life not only the storied flight on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but also the trials and perseverance that both preceded that event and that grew out of those moments of flight.
As McCullough tells the story, he frequently quotes from correspondence between the two brothers, as well as from letters to and from their sister. As the story progresses, he also draws from the many printed resources of newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. It was in one of these quotes that I was particularly struck by the beauty and power of the words used. As the correspondent wrote about the remoteness of the Outer Banks, and the sense of them seeming to be like “the end of the world,” the author further explains that the correspondent “then stressed that this end of the world had in fact become ‘the center of the world because it was the touchable embodiment of an Idea, which, presently, is to make the world something different than it has ever been before.’” (pp 157-158)
The image of the end of the world become the center of the world, and the magnificence of expression in “the touchable embodiment of an Idea,” both spoke to me of the well-crafted use of language. To me, it is poetry.
Such use of language is part of the rich experience of reading for me. That experience can also happen when we open the Bible I believe. So often, though, we approach the Bible in order to make use of it, either in such ways as preparing sermons, or in looking for ways to prove that we are right about a particular idea or belief. We use the Bible rather than allowing it to touch us.
I remember a class that I took in college entitled, “The Bible as Literature.” As a young person, with a developing faith, and a view toward seminary, I wanted to get into this book of faith. But with the school being a public institution, approaching the Bible from a faith stance wasn’t allowable. We had to instead study it as literature. “Well,” I remember thinking, “at least we are studying the Bible.”
Yet, because we read it with different eyes, because we were invited to hear it as literature, I was able to grasp its riches in a different way. I received the careful wording of the writers. I heard the poetic expression that is in so many parts of the Bible. I heard it all in a new way, and then, when I again read it as a book of faith, that reading was deeper and more beautiful.
As we craft our worship expressions, as we prepare messages for Sunday experiences, even as we write articles for the church newsletter or website, we do well to be aware of the great power that words can hold. Whether we are writing or speaking, our creativity with words can be both beautiful and profound.
As we come toward the end of Holy Week, I am reminded once again of a poem that strikes a chord with me every time I read it; John Donne’s, ”Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward.” It is centuries old, of course, and the language is certainly antiquated for our day, and yet, there is beauty and depth and spiritual searching in it.
Donne speaks of riding toward the West, while his soul bends toward the East. He writes, “There I should see a Sunne, by rising set, And by that setting endlesse day beget.” He recalls those events of many centuries before, when Jesus died through the crucifixion, yet, through his death he gave to us eternal life. It is a basic statement of Christian faith, and yet the very ancient feel of the words makes me pause to consider again the life-changing events of that day.
Donne is recalling the day of Jesus’ death, even while he is riding, not toward Jerusalem, as if on a pilgrimage, but rather riding Westward, in the exact opposite direction. His opening words in the poem are actually incredibly pertinent to our own day. He speaks of the soul, of your soul and my soul, and how in the day to day living of our lives we tend to lose ourselves. In the hurried ways that we move, he says, we often move away from our soul’s true desires, being carried away by either pleasure or business to places where our soul is not truly fed, and not intimately connected to God.
Donne himself, on the day of Good Friday, in the year 1613, is indeed riding Westward, even as he feels the pull of his soul bending toward the East. It is in the depth of his soul’s reflection that he ponders the death of Jesus. He recalls that even nature paused on that day long ago, when God’s “footstoole” cracked and the “Sunne” winked, allusions to the shaking of the earth and the darkening of the sky while Jesus was on the cross.
He concludes the poem with a prayer of sorts, his final words being, “Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace, That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.”
On this Good Friday, 2017, may we also pause from whatever we are doing, and thereby experience God’s grace, and the restoration of God’s image within us.
If you live in Southern California, and have ever been to the “Pageant of the Masters” in Laguna Beach, then you have an idea of what the “Pageant of our Lord” looks like. If you are not familiar with the former, it is an annual production that uses people to bring works of art to life, which is to say that with the lighting that is used the human figures actually blend into the background of the painting or sculpture presented and look as though they are simply a part of the artwork.
The “Pageant of Our Lord” is a similar production, presenting works of art that tell the story of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The Rolling Hills Covenant Church draws upon the expertise of some of the folks from Laguna in order to create their production.
Now the Rolling Hills Church is a fairly large congregation, with a substantial campus, that appears to be well-off financially and is definitely committed to artistic presentations such as this production, which combines the artworks with choral and orchestral music.
In the small church that I serve, we too are committed to the arts, but would likely never have the resources to put together such a large-scale production. But we don’t have to do our own production in order to present it to our members who are interested in such an event. We merely need to purchase tickets and make the drive to Rolling Hills in order to benefit from what they do there.
Now that certainly seems overly obvious, even as I write the words, and yet how many churches might be tempted to bemoan that fact that they can’t do what larger churches do? But of course, we can use those larger churches as a resource, drawing upon their programs and events.
I will admit that their theology is somewhat different than mine. I would have written the script for the production with some definite editing of their choice of words and concepts. But even that becomes something that the people in my church can discuss afterwards over dinner. It is not something that needs to detract from the impact of the presentation. It is an opportunity to engage in more than just sitting, watching and listening to the production.
This is only one of many opportunities for smaller churches to engage the arts. Museums, concert halls and theaters are other obvious places where such interaction can take place. If the people of smaller churches are committed to explorations of the arts, that can happen in a multitude of ways. This particular journey of discovery is only limited by the ways in which we limit our own creativity.
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.