Friday, August 31, 2007

Spiritual Aids

Monday at Greenbelt, Trevor, James, James, Bill and I ate at Nuts Cafe and chatted with a nice Christian couple who joined us at our table. Not sure how the conversation got on the topic, but somehow we began to talk about Adult Bookstores, well, not so much about their contents of porn and sex toys, but about the irony of calling these places "bookstores" for "adults". It all seems rather adolescent.

Similarly misnamed are items sold under the heading Marital Aids. Although there must be testimonies of married couples who have been aided by the use of whips, chains, porn videos and sex toys, I have a feeling that many (most?) consumers of marital aids are not looking to deepen their relationship with their spouse. (Of course I may be wrong about all this, and I am sure some of you will sort me out :-)

Over the weekend I witnessed Matt Redman perform Greenbelt's Main Stage. Technically Redman doesn't perform; he leads worship. His sweet and upbeat songs encourage people to open up and draw near to God.

He possesses a warm, friendly voice--emotive, not afraid to show his intimacy towards God, his passionate desire to worship Jesus. I own two or three of his albums and through the years have enjoyed his voice, melodies and most of his lyrics. Seeing him listed as a Greenbelt presenter, I jumped at the chance to experience his worship leading.

I sat in a shaded spot as the music began. Redman called us to worship. Clap your hands! Shout to the Lord! Dance! He gave lots of instructions and pushed the audience to respond enthusiastically. Like many pop and rock singers do, at one point he called out to the crowd, How is everyone doing? He received a tepid response, so he repeated the question with emphasis. I said, HOW IS EVERYONE DOING? And on cue, the crowd went wild.

As the "worship" continued, a large group of audience members in the center, up towards the front lifted their hands, jumped up and down, and shouted along with the songs (much like I had done for years in the charismatic church services I attended).

But as the crowd cheered, I grew quiet. The more Redman sang and rallied for us to join in the worship, the more I withdrew. I suddenly felt like a stranger speaking a different language. Instead of warming, my insides felt still and cool and distant.

I questioned myself,
Has my heart grown cold to God? Is this because I am gay and I am bold enough I accept this fact? Have I lost my "first love"?
The answers came quickly and confidently. No, I still love to be in God's presence. I still love to worship. But I no longer need to be ushered to the throne of God like in the past. I no longer need a cheerleader pointing me to Jesus. These past six years, as I sat in silent worship in Quaker meetings, in that stillness, I have found that "hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the Sun above."

It is not that I think that Matt Redman-style worship is worthless or bad. But I have outgrown it. I don't need it like I once did. Instead of a call to worship it sounded more like clanging cymbals to me right now. It serves as an outmoded prop to help me worship or aid, a spiritual aid. Today I don't need all those bells and whistles and exhortations. I just need a quiet room, silence among Friends, and then I find I can usually enter into a place of openness and listening and surrender.

Here is a crude analogy for those of you who remember tests like the SAT.
Right now, for me, a porn film is to marriage as Matt Redman is to worship. It serves as a distraction, a pleasant but unnecessary stimulation that I have outgrown.

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At 8:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Peterson, so much of worship these days makes me feel "like a stranger speaking a different language". I kind of felt the same ay at GB. The comfy shoes of worship that I used to put on no longer feel so comfortable.

I guess the problem for me is that I have no other experiences of worship and therefore I am having to find my own journey - the silence, the despair, the hope, and on ocassions the deep satisfaction of knowing that even though my response to emotional worship has dimmed my heart towards God has not. You have managed to eloquently put into words the things that I could not say. Thank you :)

At 10:06 AM , Blogger Nonsequitur said...

I know how you feel Peterson. I also went through the days of hymn singing, raucous spiritual celebration, and it was all well and good in it's place. Some folks take it on a very deep, spiritual level, for others it is a distraction. Now I feel closer to God when I am writing, being there to support a friend/family member, or in silent worship. In some ways it is like the human developmental cycle: we start out as babies - everything is new and interesting, we turn into boisterous youths who are excited about the application of our knowledge and overly confident in what we know, sometimes dangerously misapplying what we have learned and pushing the boundaries we have been given; then possibly a few years of teenage angst where we are questioning everything and our previous objects of adoration or comfort have fallen... then we move on and start seeing the bigger picture, why all of those experiences were necessary, why the people and teachings are the way they are. Maybe we come back to those things that gave us comfort before and we acknowledge them as old friends with whom we have been through a lot, instead of the overwhelmingly huge objects of security that they once were. We move on in life holding those things beside us or behind us, but not in front any more, having gained other tools for seeing and communicating.

At 1:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you were my highlight at greenbelt and was fed up at missing the bush show after queing for an hour!!... although not usually keen to see a bush of any kind. I invited all my st8 friends to centaur - they all turned up - and really loved the show you did..I loved it cause i got a front of house view too... thanks :-) M

At 2:36 PM , Blogger Gregg said...

For many years I have felt like an outsider whenever I've been in a 'cheerleader' type 'worship' setting. Whenever I've been in such a setting, I have often felt that I was not being true to myself and true to my God. I actually never really totally understood that setting and that is probably a big reason why I've pulled away from organized religion for the last 10 or so years.

I think, however, that most people think they need such distractions. They need someone lead them...yes, somewhat like some people think they need 'marital aids' to assist in whatever they do with those. Most people I've observed are afraid of worshiping 'alone'...of being vulnerable and open to what He might be trying to tell us.

At 3:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember days in the past at a small church in New Jersey where worship sometimes erupted spontaneously. It was quiet and harmonious. We did not need a cheerleader. Mostly now when I worship in song it is in private with the old hymns that are wrought with truth that relates to my own private journey. When in corporate gatherings, whether praise and worship or old hymns, I find that the song leaders are often schedule driven (watching the clock) and/or follow the service outline in the bulletin. Sometimes it's more like a show with little attention paid to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

At 6:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm - my worship highs in the past have tended to be participative choral hymn singing as a Methodist and I'm still thankful for the 'swashbuckling' theology they taught me.

My experience was a little different at Greenbelt when I went to hear Sir John Taverner speak on his music .

He had some excerpts from his music based on the ancient Orthodox tradition of musical chanting. At one point he spoke of how an Orthodox priest had told him how in order to give birth to the Son of God we have to become in touch with the Mother of God Who is part of our spiritual life as much as our Father God.

He encouraged us to do this by being still and listening to one of his hymns to the Mother of God. I confess I thought 'yeah - like this is gonna work for me !' as the cultural faith context was so alien

But as I sat both the silence and the music washed over my soul and heart I felt myself drawn inward and outward - turned inside out in fact . And as I'm such a blubber hot tears soon trickled down my cheeks I felt such deep joy and peace

At 8:45 AM , Blogger Michelle Galo said...

I feel the same way at worship services where the leaders try to get people to make noise, as if those who shout the loudest must love Jesus the most. I too have found that sometimes I can hear God better in silence.

At 10:49 PM , Blogger Bob G+ said...

Peterson - Nice piece. There really is an "outgrowing" that many people realize. It happened to me, too. The quiet, contemplative traditions of Anglican monasticism (like your experience with Quakerism) is a deep well from which to draw - the need to be hyped-up is just no longer needed.

At 11:34 PM , Blogger 9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

I felt somewhat the same about Delirious at this year's Greenbelt. I used to really like them, but this year I felt I'd outgrown them in some way.

In fact, I think Greenbelt has outgrown them. A glorified worship band had no place closing the festival. My friends and I endured half an hour and then toddled off to the Performance Cafe to see Kato, who were much much better....

I still feel a bit sad about delirious though. I just wish they'd held on to the spirit and creativity that made Mezzamorphis so damn good....


At 2:11 PM , Blogger Willie Hewes said...

Since you ask: actually, as far as I can tell a lot of the people who buy sex toys and kinky gear are in long term relationships, and quite a few are in fact married.

That said the term 'marital aids' still strikes me as odd, and not just for the 'marital' part. 'Aids'? What, like, 'oh no, we need some help or we can't do this'? I'd like to think that for most couples it's more of a 'hey, how can we have more fun and more variety?'

But of course it depends on what kind of person you are, sexually, and what is 'fun' is different to everyone, because sex is a very personal thing.

And I guess all that goes for the spiritual 'aids' as well, though I have less experience with that.


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