Episode 17: Piano In Worship

I was in worship a couple weeks ago when an improvisational artist sat down to the piano and transformed the sanctuary into exactly what it was built to be: a sacred place.

He was a genius at play. His riffs on the recognizable theme, his variations in rhythm, cadence, key and volume, along with his dexterity transformed the simpe hymn into a work of art.

Of late in worship, musical performances are met with an obligatory clap – a perfunctory appreciation for the effort put into creating the moment. I’m not a fan of that obligatory applause. For me, worship is about creating moments that open up the possibility for the sacred to be encountered. Good worship also permits those who encounter the sacred to respond in whatever seems appropriate to them.

Sometimes something so ineffably beautiful occurs and I sit in silence, wanting to let the moment linger just a little while longer.

Sometimes some new truth hits like a rude revelation, and I take out a pen and start writing so as not to lose this important morsel of wisdom.

And sometimes, something so stunning happens that, as if with one coordinated effort, the room erupts in a spontaneous applause – because it feels like the only way we have to express our gratitude.

Its that spontaneity that good worship induces – an unexpected moment that surprises us an unrehearsed and authentic expression of – well, whatever: joy, sadness, awe, wonder, merriment.

On this day, in this worship., this young artist made something magical happen. He used the keys on the piano to express his deep faith in and admiration for the sacred. He wasn’t performing. He was interpreting a faith that he needed to authentically express with his gift and its instrument: the piano.

I have come to the painful realization that not everyone who stands before us in worship knows the difference between performing and leading worship In the former, attention always stays fixed and focus on the one delivering the music. With the latter, attention is focused on the one to whom the leader is directing our attention: namely, God. Like someone once wrote about pornography, I can’t define that difference but I know it when I see it.

I saw it in this young pianist.

As the gathered worshipers their delight to an expressed gratitude, rising out of their seats to stand and give thanks to this young artist – he himself was dumfounded; embarrassed. It was clear he was using his gift to give glory to another. He was himself transported to the sacred. When he felt the attention back on him, he was a bit lost and uncomfortable. He quietly gave humble recognition to the assembled, and then quietly took his seat to let the rest of worship unfold. Having done his part, he wanted simply to join us all in the praise of our Creator.

Moments like this sustain me. Not every worship service I attend transports me like this one did. That’s ok. God comes to us all in different ways, at different time, with different expressive and artistic techniques.

Be open to those moments of genuine, unexpected delights in which the sacred breaks into the profane and transports us to the presence of the divine. Let it be that you discover your pathway to the sacred through the gift of a companion and fellow traveler and we all journey Into the Mystic.