Embodied worship – background


So while I was down south, I led a workshop at the South Island Ministry Conference, held at East Taieri Presbyterian Church. The conference has become a bit of an institution now, in a really good way, and this year I got to lead a seminar entitled, ‘Where is music going in worship?’

It was a dangerous title. It was also given to me, because I didn’t come up with one before they had to send out the conference publicity. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to float my new ‘Embodied worship’ concept.

In a nutshell (ok, so probably the shell of a reasonably large nut) Embodied Worship is an idea I’ve been working on, inspired by a few different sources. The first being Mainly Music. I take my wee Sam along on whatever Friday’s he will co-operate with me to get in the car by 9:25am. I had been musing about the possibilities of more all-age worship, something that children are not just included in, but can fully participate. Secondly, I was inspired by a book I began reading (and then quickly lent to my good friend Adrian, knowing he would love it) called ‘Body prayer’. It was an overview of how the church has prayed through the ages using posture. So words are an optional extra in this kind of prayer, the stance or the movement is actually the primary ‘action’ of prayer.

Lastly, this was all gathered up in a long held concern that too much of our worship takes place purely in our heads. We sing songs full of words, we pray prayers full of words. We have sermons full of even more words, concepts, ideas and propositions. Then some more prayers, some more songs, some notices and then we get to go, have a cup of tea and TALK! God help us. Often the only kind of participation that we invite from the congregation is to say, ‘amen’ at the end of everything. Admittedly we stand up to sing and sit down to pray, but often our bodies seem to serve merely as ‘brain taxis’. We don’t seem to know how to let ourselves worship holistically. One criticism of the Presbyterian church in particular that really stayed with me was, ‘They took the Word made flesh and made it word again.’ Ouch. That’s true though.

So, my question was, can we use music in a way that challenges the primacy of our minds? (Some people may think contemporary worship does this already, but that’s a separate issue!) Can we begin to participate in the story without having to understand or agree with everything beforehand (its like God has to get us to sign a permission slip before we surrender ourselves to him)? In Scriptural reality, it seems people get caught up in a Story that is bigger than themselves, and then they work the rest out as they go along. Just read the New Testament Epistles. Every one is asking and answering the question, ‘what now?!’

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