Monday, June 01, 2009

God creeping in at the edges

We had an excellent Pentecost Later Service last night. It worked really well despite being deceptively simple in structure.

We started with an explanation and then listened to three songs that in various ways explore what it means to be human in today's world - U2's Magnificent, the Killers Human (my favourite single of recent months) and Brett Dennen's Aint No Reason. People were invited to chat about how they felt about the songs as they played (they had lyric sheets to help them).

For further exploration we had three zones - one with the newspapers, one with notes on the section of Mark's Gospel we'd reached by yesterday and an art zone. In each of these people were invited to explore how we express our humanity in the worlds of work and politics, arts and culture.

The same questions were displayed in each zone - What does it mean to be human? What’s our calling as humans? What’s my calling? What does the Holy Spirit have to do with this? - plus some more specific ones.

Having meandered between zones for half an hour, we came back together for some liturgy and simple illustrative rituals - washing our hands to symbolise the cleansing that comes through the Spirit, drinking water as a symbol of refreshment and being anointed with oil as a sign of being filled with the Spirit to live as the people God calls us to be.

It was all very simple. yet it was a very profound evening. One reason for this was that we'd learned of the death of a regular member of our later service and the format gave space for those particularly affected by the news.

But I think something else was going on which is that when people are given freedom to explore a fairly well focused subject, that's what they do. And while they do that in a variety of ways, God is able to creep in around the edges and surprise us.

So, it was a good, simple and in many ways profound evening where lots of us encountered God in ways that aren't often possible in church.


Ben said...

Strangely profound, vital, a conversation with God... I agree fully. At ten minutes past seven, I was firmly (if silently) of the opinion that last night's service was going to be an utter disaster. But by the end I, like others, had become very aware that a spontaneous and spirit-led encounter had occurred on quite a deep level... Entirely without the 'aid', it must be said, of guitars acoustic or electric, or emotional manipulation of any sort.

Having said that, the use of 'canned' music, as it were, was deceptively clever; the careful application of an ambient (Portishead?) track during our conversation time- and even during your message- was a small stroke of genius... It may not have been noted by everybody, but in terms of generating and sustaining a meditative mood, it made a significant contribution.

Leaders tend to get it in the neck when things don't work, and are (necessarily) invisible when they do... But it was obvious that there was a great deal of thought, planning and care behind yesterday's meeting: an effort which deserves to be appreciated.

Or am I just a helplessly 'Emergent' post-modern? :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds ghastly.

simon said...

Thanks Ben.

The music was Cinematic Orchestra and it was intentional to keep playing it so as to aid continuity between the group work and my drawing the threads together before our closing liturgy.

Anonymous would have loved it if s/he had been there!

Anonymous said...

I think it was Frank Zapper who said: "There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another."

But a service of U2, The Killers and Brett Dennen? Are you serious? Chatting about how people feel about pop songs?

I might feel that the Hothouse Flowers version of "I can see clearly" is the most uplifting and life affirming song in the world, but does it make me feel closer to God? No. And why doesn't it?

It's simple. Music is a powerful and wonderful creation. It can deliver peace and tranquility or it can provoke rage and angst. But is faith truly built on emotion? Can emotion driven by music be trusted as a basis to find God?

Is music a substitute for the cold, hard, intellectual light of day? I think not. To find faith, of whatever variety, can't be properly reached by the tapping of feet or the waving of hands. It can't even be reached by meditating to the mesmerising sounds of a multi-layered chill out track. Faith, in whatever God you choose, has to be reached by argument and intellect.

Otherwise, what's it worth? The sublime power of music is it's ability to change how we feel - and feelings can be mercurial. Think how contemporary life is displayed through these feelings. Music, while extraordinary and awesome, might make you feel great, but it has to be tempered with some kind of food for mental stimulation

Otherwise you might as well take mood enhancing drugs and claim you've found God.

simon said...

I think it's Zappa as opposed to the device you change channels on your TV with.

I asgree that music can make you do anything but that isn't actually what the service consisted of as my original post made pretty clear.

Most of it was peopletalking about to each other about what it means to be human, what God calls us to and how the Holy Spirit helps us.

And the conversation was resourced by the newspapers and the Bible (a comination Spurgeon recommended) as well as music. The evening was topped off with liturgy that was rooted in the Biblical story of God's activity in the world.

Craig Gardiner said...

I'm increasingly thinking of God creeping out to the edges rather than in, but i can see exactly what you are getting at here, sounds to have been a truly inspiring event.

I am encouraged that these services 'work' for people outside the usual selceted Band demographics, esp with the lyrics sheets.

Our Pentecost service was less reflective but loads of fun ... all stage stuff with kids running around with windmills makinG whooshing sounds and blowing very hard ... so many and so hard in fact that they managed to put out the unputoutable candles representing the fire of the Spirit! We are trying not to read too much into that!

It ended with a wonderful reflection by Ian, our Student from the Sourth Wales Baptist College, based around the poem for Pentecost in Kim Fabricius' book 'Ten Propositions'

Onwards now to Trinity!

Anonymous said...

Sounds really interesting. Love that people are really involved and not just sitting listening. Margaretx