In a year known for its unexpected events, there is one certainty, 2020 will be a year remembered primarily as the Year of the Pandemic when life became more about surviving than living. How much longer this lasts remains to be seen. We yearn to return to normal. Or, as one Facebook post shouted: “2020 needs to just pull over and let me out…I’ll walk.”
As a man of faith, I have to wonder — how will this new normal impact how we worship? Is it just me, but even as I write this, it appears to some that you are more likely to be arrested today if you gather in a church of more than ten people than you are if you riot and loot in an urban environment. Yet we all realize a new normal is taking shape before our very eyes, and we have yet to fully grasp its implications. What changes are yet to come? Will gatherings of the faithful continue, or will we just need to get used to different?
I did not grow up attending a church on a regular basis. Sunday worship was not a norm for me. After becoming a Christian, that changed. Corporate worship became a way to express my faith, to gather with other believers and worship my Creator, Redeemer, and Heavenly Father. Truth be known, it was an opportunity to recharge my spiritual batteries. As I grew in my faith, I found it fascinating how different Christian faith communities order their worship. Some are liturgical with a set pattern of prayers, readings, and music, while others are more informal with less structure. Growing up as I did, I had no traditions that drew me in one direction or another. I found, and still do, that worship can occur in many ways.
Earlier this year (February 17), I wrote a post titled It’s Sunday Morning in My Soul, and addressed the need for personal worship apart from your typical Sunday morning corporate worship experience. At the time, I did not realize we were just days away from social isolation and the closing of our churches for months. These recent stay-at-home, maintain-social-distancing, and learn-to-wear-a-mask weeks have provided time for some serious self-contemplation about many things, worship included.
What does it mean to worship? Just because our churches are closed for a time, does that mean worship is too?
One of the books I read during this time of self-isolation was Adorning the Dark, by Andrew Peterson. As a songwriter, musician, and writer, the author has written a memoir about his life as an artist reflecting on how God has called us to use whatever gifts we have to adorn the dark with the light of Christ. On page 11, I was struck with his perspective on how worship is connected with doing what God has called us to do. Here’s what he said.
“Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do. I ask myself when I feel God’s pleasure, in the Eric Liddell sense, and it happens — seldom, to be sure, but it happens — when I’ve just broken through to a song after hours of effort, days of thinking, months of circling the song like an airplane low on fuel, searching desperately for the runway. Then I feel my own pleasure, too, a runner’s high, a rush of adrenaline. I literally tremble. There is no proper response but gratitude. The spark of the idea was hope; the work that led to the song was faith; the completion of the song leads to worship, because in that startling moment of clarity when the song exists in time and history and takes up narrative space in the story of the world — a space that had been empty, unwritten, unknown by all who are subject to time — then it is obvious (and humbling) that a great mystery is at play.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not talking about the quality (or lack thereof) of the song itself. That’s irrelevant. The point is, time is unfolding like a scroll, and we’re letters on the parchment, helping to make up the words that tell the story. Each of us is a character, in both senses of the word. At times, characters become aware that they’re part of the story, and that brings the realization that, first, there is an author, and second, they are not him.
This realization is good and proper, and leads into the courts of praise, if not the throne itself.”
I re-read that page countless times. With each reading, I could not help but recall the classic 1980 film Chariots of Fire. Based on the 1924 Olympics, the movie contrasts the lives of two prominent English runners. One, Eric Liddell, was a missionary who many thought would give up his “running” to preach the Gospel. But Eric reveals a different understanding of the gifts God had given him. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
So be careful when you ask me what I have been doing during this time of self-isolation. I have pondered and asked myself a number of questions. When do I feel God’s pleasure? What gifts has God given me? How am I adorning the dark?
As Andrew Peterson said, “Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do.” (1)
Have you felt God’s pleasure lately?
(1) Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark, (B&H Publishing, 2019), pg 11.
(2) Photo is by Matt Seymor on Unsplash.com