Sunday, October 21, 2007
Appealing to the senses
I think I had a vaguely “golden calf” moment this morning in church.
While we were away for a week’s holiday in Paris, we went to see Chartres Cathedral and, later on in the week, the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Perhaps we overdosed on stained glass windows, frescos, candles and statues. There was so much to appeal to the senses and, for me, for the time I was there, it was not a distraction, but actively heralded me into the presence of God.
Sitting in our Sunday meeting, I was struck by the poverty of the appeal to the senses. There was nothing to look at. There was on overhead projector with the words to the songs – but they were just words on a plain blue screen.
There were no pictures, not statues, no stained glass windows – nothing to appeal to the visual senses. There was nothing really appealing in the music – not a symphony of sound from a variety of instruments – just one man and his guitar (not that he played badly!) I just had an “I-would-like-something-stirring-to-look-at” moment. I remembered the stunning fresco of Jesus holding out his arms on the wall of the Sacre Coeur, and thought why can’t I have something like that to look at?
In my student days I used to attend a small Methodist chapel in a tiny village called Middleton-one-row. They had a fresco painted on the front wall. I was just thinking whether it was a stained glass window – but, no, it was a painting. It was contemporary. I am not even sure that I can remember exactly what it was, it was a long time ago. There was a rainbow, a dove, a cross, green fields, blue skies – no Jesus, no angels. It was uplifting and it was constantly in front of you. It did not distract from worship.
A number of years ago I read a book that went through each of the Ten Commandments. The one about graven images was not so much about distraction, but more about how much they limit what God would like us to see. As with the words on an overhead projector screen sometimes binding our hearts, rather that loosing them, when it comes to singing praises, statues and frescos can do much the same. For some people, they never see beyond the marble or the bronze. They focus on the physical, visible things and they never connect with the invisible.
There was almost a gentle reprimand from the Spirit saying “Is that really what you want to see? You want to settle for a picture to gaze upon when you should experience an encounter with the creator of the universe?” I don’t doubt that the one can’t lead to the other – I have experienced it. The one doesn’t always lead to the other – I have experienced that too! The other – the encounter, doesn’t need the picture to make it happen – only the right heart attitude.
God told me to look around at the other worshippers. Hands raised high, heads bowed down – whatever their posture, these people were meeting with God – and so was I!