God is the author of creativity and imagination! Viewing both small and grand aspects of the beauty of the world around us or cuddling a newborn baby give us just a glimpse of the depth and breadth of that imaginative creativity. We, as imago dei, are gifted with those qualities. We are invited to be creative and use our imaginations in our everyday lives and in worship planning and leading.
Yet, creativity in leading worship has, at times, been taken to mean we need to come up with something “new” and “unique” every week, exhausting the worship planning team. This need to continually create a fresh experience in worship can lead to entertainment-style features to try and bring people into or keep people in the church. Some see creativity and imagination in worship as the anecdote to sameness or monotony which they fear will lead to boredom.
Author and theologian G.K. Chesterton gives insight on monotony and boredom: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
In light of Chesterton’s quote, Ben Sternke, one of our priests at The Table, wrote in an email to the church, “Have you noticed that the parts of the worship service that the kids love the most are the ones we do exactly the same week after week. We could take a cue from them, I think! Blessings to you this weekend in the ‘monotony’ of worship.”
So, God is the author of both creativity and imagination AND monotony and rhythm! We all wake up each morning and fall into some sort of routine…brushing our teeth, eating breakfast, making our bed (well, not everyone!), getting dressed, time in the Word, etc. While each day has twists and turns and surprises, no day is ever a blank slate waiting for us to create or imagine entirely unique, fresh ideas just so we don’t get bored with life. Refreshing or bringing creativity into the already established rhythm of life can have a meaningful effect on keeping the monotony from becoming boring. Rhythms, habits, routines are necessary parts of life, and also necessary components of corporate worship.
While I have numerous ideas for how to infuse the rhythm or monotony of a worship service with creativity and imagination (like silence, creative Scripture presentation, Psalm singing, liturgical dance, use of the art forms of the people in the congregation), I’d like to share with you what happened at The Table recently. The Gospel passage that informed Andrea Reinhardt’s message was Luke 13:10-17. As she concluded her message, Andrea led us in an Ignatian exercise known as “Imaginative Prayer” using verses 10-13 of the Luke passage (see the exercise below).
This was the third reading of that passage during the service, which could have been considered monotonous or boring, but which was made fresh and meaningful by engaging our imagination as she read it again. Within the weekly rhythm of the liturgy, we were allowed time and space to be still, to be silent, and to use our imagination to respond to Jesus and be shaped by the Word.
The late Robert Webber, who contributed extensively to Worship Leader magazine, wrote in one of his final books, Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life, that “…in the postmodern world, the way of knowing has changed. We now live in a world in which people have lost interest in argument and have taken to story, imagination, mystery, ambiguity, and vision…” and noted that it is Christianity as story that compels people to engage with interest in spiritual conversations. When we have everything spelled out for us, our imagination shuts down. But when we are invited into a story or imaginative process, our desire to know more, to seek until we find, is ignited and heightened. That is what happened last Sunday morning! That is what can happen in our times of corporate worship as we prayerfully discern how to use creativity and imagination to recover the spiritual life.
In his book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, author James A. K. Smith asserts that “worship is the ‘imagination station’ that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom.” It is through the habits nurtured in the monotonous rhythm of corporate worship infused with God-given imagination where much of the formation of our people takes place.
Monotony AND imagination, woven together meaningfully, can have a significant impact on your church’s worship. Blessings to you this weekend in the “creative monotony” of worship.
Liturgical response: Imaginative Prayer
(written by Andrea Reinhardt with ideas from the Pray As You Go App)
We’ll take some time today for an exercise in imaginative contemplation on our gospel passage. This is a practice offered by St. Ignatius of Loyola to engage our thoughts, emotions, and senses in prayer, especially as we use our imagination to place ourselves in the stories of Jesus.
I want to invite you to close your eyes and sit comfortably. You may want to place your hands on your lap or near your knees, either palms down or palms up.
Take a deep breath. How do you feel today? What is in your thoughts? … Take another deep breath, and as you breathe out, release your thoughts and concerns to God.
We’ll read Luke 13:10-13 again:
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Pause for a moment to let God look at you, however he may want to gaze upon you today.
Let’s begin to imagine the scene… It is the Sabbath, a Saturday, and a crowd fills the synagogue hall. Most of them form a semi-circle around the room seated on tiers of benches that line three of the walls. The stone wall of the synagogue forms the backdrop behind them; in front of them, a row of smooth, stone pillars circles the open space of the synagogue hall. In the middle of the open space, in the middle of the synagogue hall, sits Jesus, who is teaching the crowd.
Now place yourself in the scene… Who are you? Perhaps someone in the crowd?
Or maybe one of the disciples? Or even the bent over woman who is not able to straighten up.
Look around the room again from your new perspective… Where are you located in the hall? Are you sitting or are you standing? How does your body feel—comfortable or uncomfortable?
Who are the people sitting and standing nearest to you? Where is the synagogue ruler? Where is the woman who cannot straighten her back? Find and study her for a moment… What does she want here today? How do you feel when you see her?
Now look over to Jesus, teaching in the middle of the room. Watch as Jesus takes notice of the woman who is bent over… Does his face change? What movements does he make as he notices her?
Jesus stands and calls the woman forward, asking her to come to the center of the room with him… What do you notice about her reaction? Watch her step toward Jesus. What is her movement like? How do you feel as you watch her approach him?
Notice as Jesus places his hands on the woman and as she responds by straightening her body and standing up tall… As she begins praising God, how is the crowd reacting? How about you—how are you reacting?
Later, when Jesus has finishing teaching and the crowd is beginning to disperse, watch as the woman who has been healed walks upright out of the synagogue.
Now is your chance to go to Jesus yourself or let him come to you… How do you look at each other? What words are spoken? What happens?