I am very interested in the subject of worship. I find that worship, especially through music and song, is a very powerful spiritual practice which sustains me.
As an expression of this I offer ‘Spirit and Song’ at St Bride’s – an opportunity to enter worship as a spiritual practice through short contemporary worship songs and chants.
We know that music and worship have been held together since ancient times and across religions and cultures. We are also aware of the great variety of musical forms that exist in a worship context, reflecting musical and religious history, style and preference. We all bring with us our own experience of music and worship which may be both positive and negative:
- Some may be uplifted by the beauty, complexity and precision of harmony in a classical religious composition, perhaps sung by a cathedral choir. For some this may seem boring and antiquated.
- Some may have a deep experience of the love of God and a sense of unity with the universe in the context of repetitive religious chant which may take one deeply into silence and stillness. For some this might seem too mystical and alien.
- Yet others may enter an altered state of ecstatic consciousness in the context of contemporary rock worship with love and devotion expressed freely and fully with voice, emotion and physical posture. For some this might seem to be pandering to popular culture and too emotional.
- Others may appreciate the clear and insightful expression of wisdom and truth such as in a well written hymn or folk song that is culturally relevant and even prophetic. For some this may just seem too much in the head and lacking power to move and inspire.
I wonder whether each of these forms of music and worship in fact have a place in church life, each being able to move, encourage or inspire as well as offer the possibility of an experience of the mystery of the felt sense of the Presence of God. I wonder whether this experience is one of the things that can most powerfully affect a person and nurture ongoing conversion/transformation in our lives.
There are a growing number of people who think that spiritual awakening is a necessary prelude to the transformation of the world that many of us seek. For me, at the heart is worship. This may sound a surprising thing to say? Surely more important is activism and political action together with the development of new economic models? The problem is that all of these, unless they flow out of a heart of worship are destined to serve self-interest, or worse, to be captured by strong forces - principalities and powers, vested interests and the god of money and materialism.
Worship changes all that. It shifts attention from self-interest to something and someone who embraces the interest of all. This shift of focus to God (to the divine, ultimate reality – whatever language we find most helpful) opens us up to God as Love, love for the whole where all are equal and where violence, greed and coveting wealth that rightly belongs to all people dissolves in the face of that love.
In worship we invite the Spirit of God to infuse us in such a way that our hearts and minds are turned to God, the mother and father of us all, such that our own inner desires are healed so that – love of God, self, neighbour and those we consider our enemies grows. It is in worship, along with other spiritual practices, that we are opened to the Presence of God’s Spirit in such a way that we are energised, healed, empowered and our motivations and interests guided in the direction of the creative Spirit of God.
No amount of study, or anger at the state of the world, or desire for change will bring about a change in human beings that will free us from the cycles of violence and greed that contaminates our world. No removal of violent language from our speech or our liturgies will remove the violence and greed from our hearts. Only the encounter with the One who is Love can make that change. Worship is at the heart of this encounter. Worship is at the heart of awakening.
But what do we mean by “worship”?
Worship is the expression of the desire for loving relationship with God, with ultimate reality. This is like a hunger or thirst which expressed in many ways but which is universal, written into the DNA of every human being.
Worship is not to be confused with liturgy or with hymns and songs made as beautiful as possible. No, worship is learning how to place ourselves in the Presence of Beauty itself and in the Presence of Love that changes us. Then our liturgy and our music become expressions of that ecstasy.
“And that, friends, is what worship is. Ecstasy. Ecstasy in the most fundamental root-sense of the word – standing outside oneself in response to a source of pure and unadulterated joy. Real worship transports the worshiper into the place where angelsong is the norm, the place where God’s redeemed future breaks into the present. Where we see Him face to face, and see ourselves as fully redeemed in the reflection of his eyes.” - Jeff Krantz
“To the extent that we abandon ourselves to our desire for God, and allow God to fill us, we are filled also with God’s desire for us, and our ability to ‘love our neighbour as we love ourselves’ is radically altered. We are now able, by virtue of the Indwelling Spirit, to ‘love one another’ as he has loved us, something utterly impossible apart from that infusion of God’s very self.” - Jeff Krantz
Spiritual practices such as worship and meditation help us to become centred in our deepest truest Self, which is not separate from God, and in which the presence of God is known and felt. As we worship we offer our minds, bodies, thoughts and feelings to ultimate reality – to God. We transcend the limits of our agendas and preoccupations to give ourselves fully, to surrender to the creative energy of the universe, to open ourselves to the divine.
In our worship we touch the creative and transforming love of God, welcoming its transforming power into our lives.
Jonathan Jelfs, September 2015
This piece is very much influenced by reading Jeff Krantz’s paper: Worship – the redemption of desire.