Saturday, April 9, 2011
day 28 - like incense before you.
Growing up in the Methodist tradition, then attending a Pentecostal youth group in high school, I did not have much exposure to sung liturgy. I attended Catholic Mass occasionally when family friends were visiting, but I preferred the more relate-able contemporary worship. Then in college attending mass, hearing the words of the Eucharist sung in Catholic Mass suddenly communion was full of a deeper power and mystery. As the priest sung, "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith," I felt a beauty beyond language--as he sang those notes, I felt the mystery of which he sung.
As an adult working in Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopal congregations I have had many encounters with sung liturgy, even having the opportunity to lead it-- some of these experiences were deep and meaningful, and others fell flat. But I believe there is power in this ancient worship. That singing the same words again and again, and creating new liturgies that are put to melodies, creates a different experience than words that are only written or spoken.
One of my calls in ministry, I think, is to find ways of infusing worship, both contemporary and traditional forms, with presence and meaning. I believe that when we gather for worship as the body of Christ, we are really meant to embody Christ. We are called to be authentically Christ's presence-- mysterious, incarnational, miraculous. Part of this means that our worship should not be boring, but overflowing with passion, love, and life. Too often Christian leaders make the mistake of assuming that contemporary=relevant and traditional=boring. But presence infused worship can take many forms, and I think one of the most beautiful is sung liturgy. I am excited for all that I am learning about this tradition, and anxious to see how I can infuse elements of this tradition into Methodist worship.
As part of our Lenten journey, each Wednesday night at Trinity we gather for a short worship service of evening prayer from published by Holden Village. Over the past several weeks, I've been learning this liturgy in preparation for the worship I led last week. What I love about sung liturgy is the way the melody becomes embedded within you. While I'm doing the daily tasks of writing e-mails, doing dishes, reading, or grocery shopping, suddenly I find myself humming the melody, or silently thinking those words. This silent song becomes a prayer that shrouds my whole day, helping me to have a sense that all I do is prayer, that each moment is a part of the great song of God.
One of the melodies that I have been walking in the past few days is "Let my prayer rise up like incense before you." I love this line from the psalms, and how sensory it becomes when we lift those notes and they seem to rise and rise like incense. Images like this inspire me to infuse more imagery, poetry, songs, art and energy into worship. I dream of creating worship that allows people to feel themselves being lifted into the presence of the Holy in a mystical way.