Thursday, October 4, 2012
Initial Thoughts on Providing a Transformational Experience
I attended a Worship Committee meeting at church recently, and have been pondering ever since. One of the foundational questions had to do with whether we are providing a "transformational experience" to the congregation. The conversation led to a discussion of transcendence versus immanence.
I started thinking about particular aspects of what church looked like at various times in history.
In the very early church, God's immanence was a new thing. Emmanuel, "God with us", was a shiny new concept. Worship of Him became intimate; people met in homes, often in secret. They gathered to break bread together, and to honor the teachings of Jesus Christ within their Hebraic framework. He'd been there recently and they expected Him to return any day. The families of people who had been healed by his touch still lived to tell the tale. Traditions were actively forming as disciples passed on tales of how he looked and sounded. His closeness was still tangible.
His immanence was celebrated.
With time, the immediate memories faded. Christianity developed into it's own entity, separate from Judaism. Standalone churches formed. Cathedrals were built. Centuries eventually passed, and as they did, Church seems to have returned to a place for honoring the transcendence of God. Going there was an escape from the mundane. Instead of the low ceilings and cramped spaces of their dwellings, people when to stand within vaulted arches and open air. Instead of the smells of dampness, sweat, and animal droppings, people breathed incense. They went to church to see artwork and hear music, things they otherwise had no access to. Their souls responded to sung liturgies even though they didn't understand the language itself.
Church gave people a way out. They wanted otherness. They reached for a transcendent God who provided escape for them each Holy day.
Now fast forward to today. For most Americans, we no longer flee lives of squalor and drear in search of sensory stimulation. We are surrounded by it. We switch on lights or climb in the car to escape. We turn on music or television and find majestic views and entertainment of all kinds. Our babies no longer die in droves; when sickness falls we have hope of recovery. For the most part, the struggling of our poor in America is nothing compared to the poverty of the past.
Christian worship in recent centuries seems to have responded to that by shifting back toward immanence. Worship reflects a theology centering around having a personal relationship with Christ. You can observe this even within liturgical denominations.
So what does this mean for us as a community of faith today?
More thoughts to come...