Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Worship That Kills

In preparing for this semester's essay on ethnodoxology and hymnody in the DMin of Semiotics and Future Studies @ George Fox I am revisiting Marva Dawn's seminal Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. Dawn comes from a particular tradition and somewhat curmudgeonly perspective, which I appreciate and amuses me tremendously, and has much to foster constructive dialogue amongst those involved in preparing and facilitating worship.

Of the myriad of things to provoke thoughts here are two in particular:

(1) Worship ought to kill us. This is the title of a chapter and here's a little excerpt:
God's word, rightly read and heard, will shake us up. It will kills us, for God cannot bear our sin and wants to put to death our self-centeredness...Once worship kills us, we are born anew to worship God rightly.
Worship ought not just tickle our ears and tingle our toes. There ought to parts that we hate because, as a Purpose Driven Life knows, it's not about us. Whatever IT is, it's not about us. We don't come to a gathering for corporate worship to get entertained, or get anything really, but to GIVE. To give God worth, to confess our sin, to receive God's grace anew, to die... When we turn over our allegiance to our King and his Kingdom we are most certainly killing ourselves in the best possible of ways.

(2) C.S. Lewis' thoughts on liturgy. This section from Lewis' Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer is fascinating and stirs up all kinds of thoughts.

Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value And [believers] don't go to church to be entertained. They go to USE the service, or, if you prefer to ENACT it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best - if you like, it "works" best - when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
 But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping...A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant...It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I'd wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep, not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.
Thus my whole liturgical position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity...But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. 
Every time I encounter this quote it jars me and challenges me.  I am pressed on my insatiability for novelty. Worship ought not feed my lame desire for novelty and giggles. It ought to guide me, kill me, help me transcend, walk me through the old, old story, help me enact the gospel.

What would it be like to be so killed by worship that I didn't even notice the service/order/liturgy and wasn't entertained but was wrecked by the whole experience?

Liturgy literally means "the work of the people." Every worship gathering has an order. But when a gathering devolves into feeding novelty or looking to tingling toes or creating giggles I'm out. Come on worship, kill me. So that I might rise again. 

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