Faith Works 12-12-15
A performance of sorts
"Why go to church?" is a question I think worth asking, at this time of year when more visitors pop in than any other point in the calendar.
Why do visitors show up when they've not been around the rest of the year, and what should those of us who attend divine services regularly think about their motivations, and our own.
And we really should think intentionally about our own intentions if we're to relate to, and sympathetically understand what it is that visitors are looking for when they come through the doors of a church or worship center of any sort.
A few weeks back, we talked here about what it means to believe in, and to participate in a sacramental reality: there is a level, a dimension, a place in the cosmos for connections between the everyday and the infinite. If you believe that the acts of a faith tradition make that connection, and you hunger for such a connection yourself, you might reasonably go to a church service. For communion, out of a relationship formed through baptism, or any of the other events that some belief systems call a "sacramental act."
Then there's simply the desire to connect with someone else, to belong in a community of people and not just to wander about as an isolated individual. The Christmas season is a time when many of us simultaneously are looking for a community to belong to, and an escape from the crowd at large, the faceless nameless mob clogging the aisles and highways and now even the internet. When you have a sense of belonging in a congregation, paradoxically you can also go there to feel like you are more at home with yourself, as a silent worshiper in the midst of many others.
But this last note on "going to church" relates to something I've had a personal chance to spend lots of time on lately: concerts. My son is a senior in high school, he's a proficient musician in a number of contexts, and this is a time of year when the regular concerts and special events come thick and fast for bands and choirs and ensembles. Rehearsals aplenty, and performances left and right, near and far. Let's just say I've gotten to know the relative leg room of most of central Ohio's public spaces in the last few holiday seasons.
Worship is not a concert. But it includes many elements of the same. In the same way, church services are not performances, but the overlap is unmistakable. There can be backwash, in fact, and good worship leaders are mindful of that hazard. A soloist in a praise band can forget that Sunday is not American Idolatry or The Holy Voice, but a time for all to worship, and you have a role to play.
Kierkegaard helpfully noted that, to him, worship is indeed a performance . . . with an audience of One. The folks up front, clergy and musicians and choir or soloists, we're all more like the stage managers. And the ones giving a performance, in the best sense of offering yourself to the audience by giving your best, are the worshipers.
But it's God who is the true audience for worship. And it's to God that we come, when we go to church. God may be anywhere, I'd never doubt that for a minute, but it's also true that I can hear music in many forms, and at many venues, but I know where I want to be to hear that music reach me most directly. It won't be through earbuds, probably not on a screen, and it won't necessarily be in the glossiest of live presentations: it's when I have a stake in the performers, a sense of the time and work they've put in, and then the entire package speaks to me in mind, body, and spirit.
I'm sure there are better concerts for particular pieces of music than some I've heard in high school auditoriums or from local stages. But that sense of connection, along with a very real belief that it's in community that a sense of the sacred can open up the doors of my heart, is why the songs and hymns and anthems and tunes played in my presence, by those who care about the same lasting hopes and dreams I have, are where I want to be. It's part of what gets me to church each Sunday, and a variety of other places each week where arts and music and drama reach out beyond mere performance, and become something more.
See you in church – maybe even in a church building!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got a song in his heart but knows it's better if someone else sings it out loud for him. Tell him about your love of worship at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.