A more profound Alleluia …

Michael Waschevski, who served on the committee that produced Glory to God, shares some thoughts on the art of worship.

Music, art, drama, movement, media, banners, vestments, furnishings, architecture … all of these are creative gifts offered in worship. The Book of Order reminds us that all are appropriate because they give glory to God. It is theologically correct to be reminded that the creative gifts of the liturgical arts offered in worship are not intended for entertainment or meant to draw attention to those offering the gifts, performance or decoration. They are offered to glorify God.

Creative gifts to glorify God are also offered to the gathered people of God. Too often, we take them for granted, impoverishing our spiritual experiences in worship that can sustain our life of discipleship. The experiences of Spirit through the liturgical arts unsettle us deep within our hearts and minds, sustaining us for a lifetime. They are profound.

Regardless of the size of a congregation or worshipping community, worship happens in a place. That place, that space, can inspire us. Think for a moment of your worship space. What architectural features give you a sense of awe or wonder or comfort or peace? What colors and textures do you see in windows, banners, paraments and vestments? Picture the baptismal font and the communion table as you recall celebrating the sacraments. In those sacraments, you experienced the height, depth and breadth of God’s love and grace amid the community of faith, and you were connected to all who have gone before and all who gather now around the globe. Was your heart full in those moments? Sit with the picture that forms in your mind; sit with the feelings and memories in your heart. Then give thanks for the gift of place that inspires you.

Like the gift of worship space, the creative gift of music inspires us in the moment and throughout our lives. An African-American spiritual speaks to the sustaining gift of music: “Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.”

How many times have you experienced a hymn or spiritual or song playing in your head? We often hear music over our heads, in the air, when we need to be assured of God’s presence and peace in the realities and struggles of daily living. Even those who struggle with the painful losses of dementia often retain the memory of music — texts and tunes that bring calm and peace and joy when all else is forgotten.

Congregational singing is the heart and soul of music in worship. Singing sacred texts that have been sung throughout the ages and around the world, as part of a community of gathered voices, inspires us in a way we don’t experience outside of worship. The weekly responses that are so settled in our memory we don’t even have to think about them – the “Doxology” and the “Gloria Patri” – allow us to offer pure praise in the moment. Beloved hymns that have taken root in our hearts and minds are learned and experienced in worship.

What hymns, songs and spirituals do you often hear “over your head?” When you hear them, what do you experience spiritually and emotionally? Listen for a moment to the music of faith that reminds you that God is present and with you. Then give thanks for the gift of music that inspires you.

Fred Pratt Green’s hymn text “When in Our Music God Is Glorified” contains this verse: “How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moves us to a more profound Alleluia!”

The creative gifts of music, the creative gift of place, the creative gifts of all the liturgical arts inspire us to find a place of profound praise as we glorify God in worship, and as we live our lives of faithful discipleship. Give thanks for these gifts — and in the next worship service you attend, be intentional to open your eyes, ears, mind and heart to receive the creative gifts all around us. Alleluia!