Tune Out Distractions. An actor was once asked how he completed his job on set when he struggled to be “in the moment,” or “in character.” I believe the student posing the question was essentially asking, how do you act, when you can’t seem to tune out distractions. In response the actor said he would consider how his character would act if he were in the same situation. He would consider what his character would do if he had trouble focusing, was thinking about the past instead of the present, or was consumed with future concerns. For this actor, simply thinking about the character’s response would help him deliver a more authentic performance as that character.
Much like an actor not fully “in character,” I have entered worship without being fully present. I have yielded to the internal and-or external distractions that come from living life. Life does provide many distractions, and they certainly seep into times of corporate worship. I wonder how many times I have simply accepted the distractions without attempting to refocus my whole self on Father Son and Holy Spirit.
When in a distracted state, I’m given a few choices: I can accept my distracted state with complacency, I can deny my distraction, or I can prayerfully surrender my distractions to God. Like the actor who would consider how his character would act if he had trouble focusing, I can acknowledge my distracted state while also reframing the situation. The actor casts his distraction in the framework of his character in a dramatic production just as I can cast my distraction in God’s framework; and thus I draw closer to God and enter worship less impacted by distractions.
I encourage you to acknowledge your distractions and offer them to God. When you can’t seem to be “in the moment” let prayer restore your present focus.
Whole-body Experience. Posture alone greatly alters the worship experience. Body language speaks volumes. Do you look up when singing or do you glue your eyes to the hymnal? Do you find yourself folding your arms (that seems to be my default posture when I’m not fully engaged) or are you so comfortable and open to God that you dare to open your palms, raise your arms, or even dance? Does the Spirit move you—internally or externally or both? When open and responsive to God during worship, one might find him or herself standing, sitting and bowed down, kneeling, lifting his or her arms, clapping, dancing, and so on. Worship is far more than a cerebral experience, although mentally engagement is a component to worship. Worship extends beyond a mere emotional experience, though emotions will undoubtedly surface. Worship is a body, mind, and soul experience.Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. ~Psalm 149:1,3, NRSV
Hearing and Internalizing the Beat. I hope you’ve had the pleasure of hearing music that seems to move you from the inside out—a drum beat that stimulates a steady tapping of the foot, a tempo and instrumentation that excites spirited movement and dancing, or a musical phrase that “takes your breath away.” Worship (whether musical or not) is a spirited experience. Knowledge of who God is and what He does stimulates a worshipful response from the inside out. The Spirit moves us, and God is our song.
The Worship Leader. Perhaps you are accustomed to seeing a lead singer/guitarist/pianist of a praise band, a choral director, or a cantor lead worship. These people play a leadership role in musical corporate worship, but above each of these leaders, above each of the congregants is the Lord. Worship is not only a response to God but also prompted by God. He moves us.
Awareness of Others. “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, NKJV)
Picture a classroom with 15 to 20 10-year-olds gathered around a rug on the floor. A teacher plays recorded music and lets the beat of the music pulse through her shoulders and steps. She transfers the beat to the rhythm sticks, which she holds in her hand. The teacher demonstrates how to play a particular rhythm pattern with the rhythm sticks; and at that point in the music class experience, many students begin to imitate the teacher’s motions, even though they have yet to receive rhythm sticks of their own. Students who show readiness receive the rhythm sticks and are invited to practice the rhythm with the teacher’s guidance. As the students gain musical independence, the teacher introduces a new, and more challenging rhythm pattern to layer atop the first. Some students can maintain the first pattern while others are trying the new one. Some students abandon the first pattern—feeling more comfortable playing the one the teacher is currently demonstrating. Eventually a third pattern is introduced. Guided by the beat of the music and the teacher, the students perform the various rhythms simultaneously; and, the teacher encourages the students to listen and stay together as a class. In order to stay together with each other and with the recorded the music the students need to focus their attention on the leader, to hear the music and internalize the beat, and to develop an awareness of others. This rhythm exercise is a whole body experience that requires participants to tune out internal and external distractions.
I witnessed this scenario multiple times in my music classroom. Then one day I began to see parallels between the music class activity and the gathered worship experience.
Internalizing the beat//Knowing Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit
Focus on the leader//Focus on God
Develop an awareness of others//Sense of being gathered for worship
Whole-body experience//Posture and movement are part of worship
Tune out distractions//Directing the mind to the real meaning of worship
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of my coworkers often greets me by saying, “Good morning, Ms. N. How are we?” The first time she asked me this I gave my automatic response as if I didn’t find it odd that she used “we” instead of “you.” I thought but refrained from asking, “Why did you use ‘we?’ That doesn’t sound right!” “Are you jokingly playing with grammar or something?”
Thankfully I withheld these comments; and, with time I saw the depth in her unusually phrased question. I began to understand “How are we?” as an invitation to consider how my feelings were affecting, and were affected by others.
The different communities in which I live and breathe shape who I am. The simple question, “How are we?” reminds me of my identity: created in the image of God, in the image of a Trinitarian relationship as revealed in Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’…” (NRSV) God said, “our image,” rather than “my image,” and so, I know that I am created in the image of a relationship. Similarly, I am also called to be in relationships—first with God and then with the people I encounter, or my “neighbors” (Mt 22:37-39).
The question, “How are we?” could mean how are you and God, or how are you and your neighbor, or how are you and your family, or how are you and the community you serve. The people with whom I work, study, and fellowship influence me, and in turn my words, expressions, and choices impact them as well. Through a prayerful and an intentional focus on relationship, I shine the light of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the image of whom I am created. I pray that I first consider my relationships, especially my relationship with God, as I prioritize and make decisions each day.
“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NRSV).
Inspired by Ephesians 5:8-9
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
A reflection using the syllabic structure of a Haiku.Darkness descended But the Lord intercedeth Illumined by Him ~ We are His children Fathered by most blesséd Light Good and right and true