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Waves and Worship

  • Waves and Worship


I’m sitting here in the early morning hours watching the surf on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Later today and the rest of this weekend I will be with a church as a consultant, speaking with them about their own surf… their own changing tides as they contemplate starting a new worship service.

I went to sleep listening to the waves and here they still are this morning… relentless in their undulation. I remember being at my Dad’s house in Hawaii years ago. At the time he was living on the North beach of Oahu where the waves can be really big and the surfers flock to get some tunnel action. There the sound was a relentless crashing sound, not the more gentle and almost constant noise I’m hearing this morning. At my Dad’s place, the crashing waves entered my dreams one night and I spent the night trying to survive that water as it filled the house of my subconscious mind. It was terrifying. I also remember a real-life moment standing on a rocky cliff much too close to the crashing surf when I was a very young woman and a little too daring, turning my back on the surf and all of a sudden being rolled and tossed like a toy by a wave that slammed over the rock I was standing on.

And so it has been with an almost visceral awareness and reaction that I have watched the Gulf Coast on the television in this last month or so. The usual gentle waves that I am seeing this morning become huge swells pushed by the winds of hurricanes. I have been with the folks of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church the last two years at their annual meeting and I have seen how battered in spirit you can become when you begin to deal with relentless human need following disasters which require not months, but years, of dealing with the aftermath. And next year I will be with the folks in Mississippi at their annual meeting in June. Hurricane Katrina has completely changed the way that meeting and its worship will be experienced…

Songs like “Wade in the Water” take on a depth of meaning they never had before. You have to think long and hard about planning to sing a song like “water, river, spirit, grace, sweep over me, sweep over me…” A song line like, “I will soar with you above the storm” no longer only speaks to some metaphorical life storm but calls to mind the hundreds of lives lost to storms, hurricanes, tsunamis of this very short new millenium. Worship design takes on a hyper-consciousness that may not have been present previously. Prayer is always a spiritual discipline integral to any planning I do, but there are times like this when I’ll spend months in prayer for a conference before I ever get to the computer keyboard.

But I also think that we have to remember that at every worship service there are people dealing with life disasters. And most of the ways that people experience any part of a liturgy we can never know or predict or completely plan for. That is the way that images and metaphors and symbols (the language of our worship) work. We are faced with metaphors and they evoke other images from our lives, calling up memories and the emotions that accompany them. All we can do as worship designers is to trust that the Holy Spirit is working in our midst. And that the Good News proclaimed will also attach itself to whatever comes up. Worship with deep soul will evoke the deepest things of our lives so that God can meet us there and touch us with healing power.

Designing and leading worship with deep soul is also about pastoral care. One of the most important members of a worship leadership team could be those persons who have the gift of prayer and care. These persons could lead prayer for worship team planning sessions. They could also be available at the end of services to pray with members of the congregation who have perhaps been touched in a way that requires spiritual care. Some churches have persons available in a corner of the sanctuary or in a side chapel ready to receive and pray with anyone at the immediate end of the service. One church I worked with had a prayer room outside the sanctuary where rotating volunteers kept a prayer vigil during the three services on Sunday morning. If you are utilizing elements of emerging worship such as an extended time of prayer and meditation at various stations around the room, having people available to pray with folks could be an essential element of that time.

Waves. I thank God this morning for life-giving water and I also ask God to work in healing ways with those whose lives have been washed-over by recent storms.
Worship. And I pray that our worship will continue to call us all to pray for victims of disaster … both with our liturgies and with our lives. I know many of you are giving money, making health kits and planning work camps. Thanks be to God.

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