So what can we learn from the discussions that we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks? I’ve really appreciated the way people have been up for the conversation; haven’t hung me for being honest about my thoughts, and have contributed some really good stuff. It’s also been encouraging to hear from so many people (both publically and privately) how my posts have resonated with them. Thank you.
There are two aspects of both the Easter celebration at Chanctonbury Ring and the pagan Beltaine ritual that I described in my earlier post that struck me particularly. I want to look at one of those aspects here, and then the second aspect in my next post.
The first is the bodily nature of how worship was celebrated. At the Easter celebration we walked, sung, prayed, reflected around a fire, stood in silence, listened, ate and drank. At the Beltaine ritual they stood in a circle together, brought objects that represented their sentiments, walked into and out of a cave, and so on. In the Old Testament, too, alongside listening to and reciting the Torah and singing songs, it strikes me that the sacrificial system was an act of worship that involved the whole person, physically bringing something into the Temple. There was a lot of dancing, too, and the playing of instruments, all in all giving us a picture of worship that was far from static and motionless. As so many of the key characters of the Old Testament show us, we encounter God through our whole bodies, so shouldn’t our whole bodies also be involved in our acts of worship together?
I love singing and love corporate sung worship. I also believe passionately that singing is a fundamental part of being human – as was brought home to me strongly when sitting at Southampton train station a few weeks ago on the day they got promoted…! I have friends who are involved in leading sung worship in church and I have no desire to disparage the good stuff that they’re doing. It’s also, of course, obvious to state with Romans 12:1 that we worship God with our whole lives.
But am I the only one who thinks it odd that the main way by which we conduct our corporate worship is by standing in rows and singing songs or reciting/singing a liturgy? We are, after all, whole beings, not just voices. The taking of communion is the one act that bucks this tendency and it is a wonderful thing, making us move, walk, kneel, eat, drink, pray and embrace others (or at least shake their hands…).
Interestingly, I recently came across a quote from the eighteenth-century revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, who seemed to think something similar when he said, ‘Some bodily worship is necessary to give liberty to our own devotion; yea though in secret, so more when with others . . . ‘Tis necessary that there should be something bodily and visible in the worship of a congregation; otherwise, there can be no communion at all’. No communion at all? Wow, that’s a strong statement…
I wonder, how might we begin to shift what we do when we meet together to worship so that it reflects our whole bodily reality? Have you experienced corporate worship done in this way? What role do you think sung/spoken worship has in a corporate setting?