Thursday, February 9, 2017

Worship: The Battle Ground of the Ego and the Soul

Let's have a look at worship, the lyric and melody type worship. Worship is of course the totality of how we live our lives. Worship is living in a way that gives honour and glory to God. But worship - in the sense of singing - is something that most Christians do, from Sunday to Sunday. 


Let’s have a look at what is probably the most famous worship verse in the bible. The worship pastor's go to 'proof text' and 'sum-it-all-up-in-one-verse.'

Psalm 22:3

You can see the Hebrew text in the center of the image. Hebrew poetry, which the psalms are, is arranged via specific numbers of words rather than the specific sounds that words make - it's not about rhyming.

With this in mind, there is some uncertainty as to whether Psalm 22:3 is 3 words and then 2 words, or 2 words and then 3 words? Does the word I’ve highlighted in yellow go with the top line, or does it go with the bottom line?

Different English translations go in different directions.

The NIV thinks 3 and then 2 = You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 

The ESV thinks 2 and then 3 = You are holy, enthroned (inhabiting) the praises of Israel.

It’s only a little different but makes a big difference, at least in this discussion. 

My Old Testament Professor, John Goldingay, has written a fantastic commentary on Psalms. He thinks 3 and then 2 words and thus sides with the NIV translation. He offers the following… The idea of Yahweh sitting enthroned in the heavens or in Zion is a familiar one (offers a bunch of verses).  Likewise, the idea that Yahweh is the one Israel praises is a familiar one (more verses as examples). But the idea of Yahweh being enthroned on or inhabiting Israel’s praise is unparalleled, and if either of these were the psalm’s point, one might have expected it to be expressed more clearly. 

Thus it is simply more likely that the NIV translation is correct. We can’t be certain. But I think it is fair to run with the NIV.

If we go with the ESV translation of the text, then the next thing we know, we’ve well-meaning Worship Pastors yelling at us; “Come on people, God inhabits the praises of his people! Let’s get singing. Let’s make some noise. Let’s really get into this and ensure that God comes and presences himself with us. Let's really make an effort.”

Bubbling away, just below the surface, is the idea that we have discovered a key or a principle by which we can get God to come at our beck and call. Hallelujah! We've found a way to make worship transactional in order to get out of it what we want. Some people promote methodologies or theologies that turn prayer and fasting and giving into transactional based activities. Beware - these practices are intended to be transformational not transactional.  

In this instance, worship supposedly becomes something that we initiate, and a means by which we move God. If we sing then God will show up, we'll have an encounter. 

You don’t have to travel too far down this road before things start to get bent out of shape. We soon have this great push to sing louder, lift our hands higher, kneel or bow down lower, clench your eyes tighter, be more sincere, be more intense, get a better sound system, get better singers on the stage, get better musicians on the stage, get a better stage. Generally just make more of an effort to make worship something amazing. 
Even just intuitively I think we all know that this isn’t what worship is about. But often this is what it has become about. 

If we’re not careful, it all starts to echo the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel, beating themselves up trying to get a miracle. 

If we go with the NIV version of the text, likely a more accurate translation, I think we'll end up heading down a better path.

Bubbling away, just below the surface of this English translation, is the idea, the conviction, that God is prior to everything. God is the initiator of everything. God is present and inhabits all things, all times, all places. God initiates and we respond.

We don’t sing and then God turns up. We sing because God has already turned up.

And so, we sing louder, we lift our hands higher, we make some noise, we kneel or bow. But NOT because we are trying to make more of an effort and get God to do something. Rather it is an embodied response to the fact that God has already done something - everything. 

Here is perhaps a better verse to start from.

Revelation 3:20
Jesus speaking – Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

Worship isn’t God hearing our voice and responding. Worship is about us hearing His voice and responding.

God’s prior to everything.
God’s the great initiator.
The universe hums with God’s song, long before I try and bring my song.

Worship is a table of hospitality.
The love of the Father is the invitation.
The Holy Spirit is the host.
Musicians and singers are serving.
Jesus is the life-giving meal.

We’re invited to the table, invited to partake, invited to taste and see that the Lord is God, that Jesus is living water, that Jesus is the Bread of Life. We’re invited to take a seat at the table and participate. 

So how do we participate?

Singing is a fully embodied activity, it is an “everything that's in me” type activity. Songs are about lyric and melody, which means songs are about thinking and feeling. Songs are about action and contemplation.

You never put on your favorite album, your favorite song, and then sit or stand dead still. Even if you are following along reading the lyrics your foot will be tapping, your fingers thrumming, your head bobbing. 

Here is Journey's Don’t Stop Believing - try and watch this without moving, impossible! Steve Perry is rocking it! Play it super loud!

Worship is something we participate in when we allow our thinking and feeling to come together in embodied participation. Music, movement, meditation all in one go.

This instructional video may be helpful.

So we lift our hands, we shut our eyes, we stand, we sway, we sing loud, we tap our feet -- NOT because in worship we need to really make an effort, really force things, like the prophets on Mount Carmel, really get stuck in so that God knows we are sincere and will hopefully show up -- we worship because God has already shown up - big time. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us!

We worship and we engage our whole body in the process because that's how we participate. 

The reason that the worship video clip is funny (I hope you thought it was) is because it is so true. We've all seen it get a little weird in worship.

Look at this next diagram. You have the same stuff - singing louder, lifting hands, making noise, and so on - on both sides of the equation. However, on one side it’s about striving and straining to get something. One the other side it is about learning to let go. 

And what’s it about letting go of? It’s about letting go of our ego.

The physical action in worship, our arms lifted before God, singing passionately despite our abilities and so forth, well it’s all about the abandonment of ego.

It is physical action that produces as spiritual openness, a spiritual atmosphere even. Of course it does! Everything is spiritual.

Through embodied engagement in worship we let go of our ego. We let go of  self-consciousness, self-interest, self-reliance, self-sufficiency. All of which, if unchecked, become manifestations of self-worship, a form of idolatry. Holding onto oneself rather than giving oneself over to God.  

In worship, when we practice full participation, we find that the abandonment of ego opens our souls to receive the one who is the Bread of Life, Living Water, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Worship is thus the battle ground of the ego and the soul. 

In this next video clip check out the battle between the ego and the soul. The boy in the middle is “soul.” The girls next to him represent “ego.”

Ego and soul are fighting. Ego says; "stand still, don’t be silly, be dignified, what will people think?" Soul says; "loose yourself in the music, in the moment, you’ve only got one shot."

Here’s a bird that exemplifies what it is to totally let go of ego and embrace soul. You’ll be able to tell which bird.

When we let go of ego we find our soul.

And in finding our soul we find a space to experience all that is true about God.

The psalmist sings in Psalm 103…

Psalm 103:1-5
Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

When we let go of ego and we sing from our inmost being our heart collides with the Father heart of God.

And then, God who is present with us, and the lyrics that we are singing, and the music that imprints it into our very beings, begins to re-script, re-order, re-configure, re-write and redeem the story of our lives and of life.

We let go of and lay down the illusions of self-sufficiency we have, we throw out all the messages that the world tries so hard to throw at us… movies, magazines, media, marketing… in an attempt to shape our lives. In an attempt to tell us, what success means, what should be pursued and valued and loved. What’s worthless and should be thrown away. What the good life is or isn’t. Who I am. Who I should be.

In the lyric, melody of worship and our embodied participation we are re-shaped by God. We find truth and life. Rather than falsehood and death. Rather than finding ourselves shaped by the world’s liturgy, we are shaped by the person of Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of God.

Not because we are striving and struggling and making great efforts, but because we are letting go, and embodying God’s truth in worship.

That’s how it is meant to be. That’s how it’s always meant to be. That’s how worship works. We embody the song. We eat with Jesus. We find life. Ego dies. Our soul comes alive. It changes the way we live.

Through the abandonment and delight of letting go.

It keeps us safe from the temptation to turn worship into either the manipulation of God or of our fellow brother and sisters. It prevents us from turning worship into a man-made, self-gratifying, consumer driven, tick box event that God despises.

Amos 5:21-27
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!
25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
    forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
    the pedestal of your idols,
    the star of your god—
    which you made for yourselves.
27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
    says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.

In the scenario here in Amos, worship “stuff” is happening. But lives aren’t being re-framed. It’s not resulting in justice and righteousness and mercy flowing into the world. This shouldn't be surprising, after all, love and justice and mercy and compassion and kindness, the fruit of the Spirit; it doesn't flow from your ego, it flows from the heart of one who has encountered the love of God in worship. 

Worship – the adoration, glorification and honouring of God. Heart touches heart. 

Worship – the abandonment of ego in the lyric and melody of song. 

Worship – the saving of our souls as that which is deep within is allowed to come to the surface. 

Worship – the formation of our lives as the scripts of our world are replaced by the truth of Jesus.

Worship – It’s not about my voice and God responding to my voice. It’s about his voice and me responding to his voice.

Worship – A table of hospitality. The love of the Father is the invitation. The Holy Spirit is the host. Musicians and singers are serving. Jesus is the life giving meal.

Worship – The battle ground of the ego and the soul.

Worship – Lyric and melody searching for action and contemplation.

No comments: