I hope you’ll bear with me today. as I’d like to follow up my All Saints’ Day post. Yes, I’m straying from my normal subject matter, but sometimes, Scheherazade needs to let a veil slip to reveal just a little more. (There’s an image that should make you go, “Ew!”)
In my All Saints’ Day post, I shared a little bit about myself, giving you readers a sense of where I am at, spiritually. One paragraph read:
Regular readers of this blog have encountered this [my respect for Tradition] in past articles. After all, I spent more than half a year writing about the Apostles’ Creed, parsing out what the different lines and phrases meant to me. I’m thinking about doing a short series on several of the church prayers and blessings, such as the Gloria Patria and the Doxology. I’ve even returned, in my own fashion, to the use of beads in prayer; no, I don’t use a rosary, but I have adopted the use of a set of Anglican prayer beads that I designed and had my crafter daughter make for me:
As I alluded in that post, I have changed as I have matured. I find that, while I still appreciate some of the things from my ‘youth’ (Randy Stonehill, Keith Green, Barry McGuire), some I have turned from, such as REZ band, Petra, pew-jumping. Yes, pew-jumping. That’s the generic term I use for wild and woolly Pentecostal/Charismatic “exuberance.” 🙂
Just Getting Old?
Is this just a function of me getting older and turning into the beloved Old Coot™ that I am today? After all, I can yell, “Get off my lawn!” with excellence in both volume and timber. So, is the fact that I’m a Methodist now mere proof of aging? Or are there other factors?
If it were a matter of just being repelled by drums in worship, yeah, that might lead to the assumption that I’ve just gotten older and swapped “Blessed Quietness” for “Blaze, Spirit, Blaze!” (After all, I recently read a humorous piece that defined drums as “Senior Citizen Repellent.” 🙂 ) And, yes, I DO dislike drums in worship. But I think I come by it honestly; it’s my reaction to having a full drum kit being banged at in a little pentecostal church whose sanctuary might be the size of my house’s floor plan. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I came away from that church with headaches.
The book Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis, is a modern classic, and it has a postscript chapter, “Screwtape Proposes A Toast”. Head Demonic Tormentor Screwtape stands at the end of a dinner for graduating tormentors and speaks of the lack of quality of souls that made up the meal. While there may be a great quantity of these souls, their “quality may be wretched.”
The difficulty lay in their smallness and flabiness. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible.
Screwtape’s complaint was about the tepidness and shallowness of souls; while able to nourish the “body”, they were just miserable fodder. His complaint mirrors my feelings about much of today’s Christianity, which seems more than willing to settle for glitz and hype, and willing to accept a manufactured spirituality that has no depth, no reality. We accept a programmable ecstasy driven by effective use of music because we are unwilling to seek God in the quietness of contemplation.
Personal Epiphany? Personal Breakdown?
Ten years ago, my two daughters and I traveled cross-country to spend some time with my family on the other coast. My sister was the lead soprano of a Presbyterian congregation, and so the girls and I went to visit her church for their Sunday morning services. (Mind you, Wife and I were serving as assistant pastors in a small Pentecostal church back then.) The choir entered the church in flowing robes, singing a Introit that, at the time, seemed so beautiful that I started crying. My daughters were looking at each other, wondering if I was alright, or if I was having a breakdown. (Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure those Presbyterians around me might have felt a little uncomfortable, too.)
The next week, the girls and I went to a small historic church in a little coastal community that only has “vespers” in the afternoon. It wasn’t really a worship service, but just a program of music by different people, whether solos, duets, instrumental, etc. And they weren’t particularly “worshipful”; the church didn’t function as a church anymore, but as a historic artifact. The vespers did include some hymns, but also a couple of classical pieces. The one piece that I remember blessing me was someone doing Aaron Copland’s Ching-a-Ring-Chaw. I know that it is a composed piece, Copland’s homage to the old spirituals, but I love that little song, and once again, for the second week in a row, I found myself crying in something other than an evangelical setting. (By the way, here is one version of Ching-a-Ring-Chaw.)
Within two months time, upon our return from our vacation, we left our church, intent on finding a new church home; we found the Methodist church we attend on our first free Sunday, and we haven’t looked back.
What was so earth-shattering in those two events in Oregon that it caused such a drastic change in me and in the spiritual direction of my family? Of course there were events leading up to that summer, drama and petty jealousies that I found affected every member of my family. But as I sat in those two churches, one a vibrant congregation, the other a historic relic, I found myself receiving a gift from God that had been missing for many years: Beauty.
There is a verse in Psalms that tells us to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” But as I sat sobbing in those two churches, it was as if God was saying, “CSL, it’s alright to worship the Lord in beauty, as well.”
That first Sunday in October, 2005, when I entered that church, I was introduced to beauty in worship, via this:
Next week, I’m going to finish dropping this veil by discussing today’s flabbiness of soul and Tradition. Hope you come back.