Spiritual in the Flesh

10 02 2017

If our view of heaven and the afterlife has become white-washed intangibility with clouds and harps and bodiless spirits, it is largely because we have stopped believing in the Sacraments.   —  C.S. Lewis, from “Transposition” in The Weight of Glory

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It is rather frightening to watch how consistently Hollywood depicts Heaven and the after-life:  a bright light, sky and clouds, figures dressed in pure white togas.  The lack of creativity is stunning.  Because this vision of Heaven is so monochromatic and bland, Hollywood must make movies about other worlds, dimensions, and galaxies that display in digital HD the stunning beauty we all long and hope for.

Recently, upon watching Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story, I departed the theater haunted by Eden.  Why?  While the plot and heroics were mildly inspiring, I could not get over the painfully beautiful  planetary landscapes.  Now, I realize our own planet has breathtaking beauty, but for some reason we want to see and experience that beauty in an entirely different, even mythical context.  We long for the other-worldly– somehow innately sensing that this world is not our true and final home.  All of it’s beauty and adventure just leave us increasingly homesick.

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So, why do I have to go to the movie theater to have this experience.  Shouldn’t I be having a glimpse of the other-worldly at church?  Sadly, no.  At least, not in the tradition in which I was raised.  My honest confession is that I am weary to the point of being angry to have to attend Sunday morning services in my current context (which is overall good and necessary).  Songs and a sermon (with announcements and a few VERY brief prayers and Scriptures).  My particular ecclesiastical tradition seems to be terribly allergic to the tactile and aesthetic .  We are fearful where that may lead, so we keep to purely “spiritual” practices in our worship– like songs and sermons.  I arrived at home after the morning service and attempted to watch the Divine Liturgy on YouTube just to have some taste of what I longed for (alas!  The quality of the video was poor, and I found I was a mere observer and no real participant!).

For you churches in this stream of the Christian tradition related to Worship practices, hear me:  I would rather watch a movie or drive into the mountains than sit through your worship services.  And if I, a committed believer raised in the church, have this opinion, how much more so do the unbelievers who sleep in on Sunday morning.  Good grief!  Even the early church suffering under heavy persecution took the time and effort to make beautiful mosaics that decorated the floors and walls of their worship spaces which tended to be in the large homes of the wealthy.

Would it really kill our churches to make our worship spaces beautiful, rather than merely utilitarian?!

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There is a good deal of irony being in a Holiness tradition– our walls are all white (or the same colors as the local Starbucks), with no art-work to be found (except for the occasional banner with a bible verse), our pulpits and communion tables have been removed to make room for the praise band and casually dressed preacher, but in many cases we still have the “altar”, which is actually the altar rail, where communicants, once upon a forgotten time, would kneel to receive the consecrated elements of the Lord’s Supper.   All furniture our forebears used in worship have disappeared except for a piece that is not used as originally intended!

Holiness churches, if we really want to be more spiritual, we need to become more physical in our worship services.  Christians have always done so until the Anabaptists.  It is the natural human inclination across time and cultures.  But sadly, being more spiritual does not seem toholy-communion-cross-in-cup be the goal.  Rather the aim is to be more appealing to visitors and outsiders so that attendance averages and budgets increase.  I know our leaders voice the belief that all such efforts are a means to the end of saving souls– getting people to Heaven and away from the wide highways to Hell.  But in all our efforts to be relevant and cool, we’ve forgotten the body of Christ who have been assembling with us all these years, and how they and we need the vision of Heaven constantly and consistently renewed before our five senses.   Maybe, just maybe, with the bright beauty of Eternity shinning out clear and true from our eyes, hearts and mouths we would all be more effective evangelists, a hundred-fold.  Then such scheming, marketing and contemporizing would not seem so necessary and we can return worship to the center and heart of Christian life as much more than a tool to attract and keep the new and hip.

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