Earlier this week, and also for the better part of last week, I spent time as an Ecumenical visitor with two partners in the Christian fellowship, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.
I would spend the better part of three days with each of them. I heard great preaching. I attended lively and engaging worship. I heard dialogues, conversations, and deliberations over matters that concern religious bodies in our time. At times, there was a breathing, abiding affirmation of long held and shared core values. At other times, there were clear differences of opinion that tested the bodies’ desire to stay in covenant and communion with partners who continue to love each other in spite of those differences. Every time I witness this, I am moved.
One of the things that struck me in each of these locations was how powerful the worship was.
There is something about gathering hundreds, if not thousands, of voices in a collective act of praise and adoration of the sacred in our midst. I note two very important things about experiencing worship in these settings. Before I comment on those two insights, let me also add that each of these events follows very closely on the time I spent in Milwaukee late last month with my own denomination. Our General Synod is still fresh in my mind – and that colors what I am about to say about my insights with these Christian siblings.
Here is the first insight, fresh in my heart and mind having now attended the national gatherings of three very diverse parts of the body of Christ. Our worship patterns are all very distinct. We sing different hymns and in different styles. We preach with different rhythms. We approach sacraments with different points of view. We participate as worshipers with different expectation of how we respond, how we move, how we deal with what we feel in worship.
Here is the second insight. It doesn’t matter. No matter what song was being sung, what instruments were being played or in what style the musicians chose to play them; no matter what style the preacher took to proclaim the Word of God; no matter whether the worshipers whispered their awe in quiet wonder and suppressed delight, or with raucous laughter and hand-clap praise, or with full on dancing, shouting, and speaking in tongues one thing was true in every setting: the Spirit was alive. She moved and played and inspired and laughed and cried and danced along side all of us.
This past month has offered me a much-needed glimpse into the way we all express our when we encounter the Sacred from the location of our cultural and experiential backgrounds. No one way is right – and no one way is wrong.
An authentic encounter with the sacred will inspire an authentic response in the worshiper – and no matter how that manifests itself it is beautiful.
I occupy an office that affords me these opportunities frequently. Not nearly as intense as the last month has been, but nonetheless my travels give me an opportunity to witness our commitments to make our joyful noises to our Creator in different lands, with different peoples, and from different perspectives.
It is a delight to do this. It is also a very different experience than my first 16 years in ministry,. In those years, I worshiped every week with a single congregation in very familiar and very beautiful patterns. That, too, was beautiful.
How do you worship? How do you express your gratitude in community to your Creator?
However you do it, bring your whole self to it. And know that the Spirit of the living God is as present with you there as She is when other communities gather – and it is all good. Give thanks to God in song and praise and prayer without ceasing on this, your journey Into the Mystic.