Several weeks ago, I wrote rather extensively on worship, dealing largely with words and concepts. I left the academically important pursuits there and now pick up with a few other angles on worship before leaving this topic, letting it rest. Here are links to some of the earlier posts:
- The priority premise
- Archives from September (scroll down to 9/8 “Preface” entry and read up/forward from there)
- Vertical and horizontal (one of several essays relating to Romans 12)
- A summary post (what’s the point of investigating worship?)
The influential worship songs are too many to count, and they’ve surfaced in multiple styles. I have regularly featured true hymns on this blog—writing, for example, about “Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love” more than once. Other hymns that have instilled deep worship longings in me include “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” “Lord of All Being, Throned Afar,” and “Still, Still with Thee.” In a more contemporary vein, a few solo-ish or performance-y songs rise in my mind: Craig Smith’s “I Worship You”; Michael Card’s “Holy, Holy Holy” from his Revelation album and “Marana Tha” from an earlier project; and Glad’s “Hallelujah,” “Gloria,” and “God Is My Rock.”
Obviously, there are scads more congregationally oriented songs that I could mention in this paragraph. I don’t imagine that would be a very useful exercise; on the other hand, this next item deserves mention.
It has been ca. 20 years since I wrote this little note to my dad after he led on Sunday morning:
You really led worship today—very effectively, I think.
Now, readers may not be aware of this time-travel possibility, but I have just signed up to be transported in time to 1995. Zoom-whoosh . . . plop. There I am, sitting at Cedars in Wilmington, Delaware. Everything is the same as it was then, except for the fact that I am now 20 years older and presumably a half-dozen years more insightful.
Dad leads songs including “Lord of All Being,” mentioned above. His voice seems mostly strong this morning, but it falters a little since he had nodule treatment, and he has to breathe more often than most. But the worship comes across with the same impact, and people are participating with gusto.
The perception of whether worship occurs in song is not about the sounds so much as it is about the content and the intent of the worshipper(s). Because I can know and sense my dad’s intentionality about worshipping God, the worship activities—including prayer and reading and songs and a couple of comments—impress me as active, vibrant, authentic, and effective, just as they had impressed me in 1995.
In sum: this time-traveling worshipper feels exactly the same as he did when he wrote the affirming note about the occurrence of worship, even though He’s lived 20 more years and has learned, led, and arranged hundreds of new songs (some, very good; others, just as mediocre as the old mediocre ones) since then. This is not to say that songs written in the last 20 or 30 years don’t have merit. Many do (!), and I could just as easily have written about a worship experience built entirely on newer songs.
I do mean to be saying that worship is worship, and style is nigh unto immaterial.
Worship Leader magazine has been informative along the way, but I suppose I spent more time analyzing and taking exception to some of its traits and emphases than I spent loving it or doing what it encouraged. Wineskins magazine was beneficial along some lines. I don’t have many issues of Leaven (a somewhat more academic journal with deep devotion peppered throughout), but I recently uncovered the ones I have, and I realized I never read them. They deserve attention.
Back in the 90s when I was editing and publishing the worship digest newsletter Principally Proskuneō, I received permission from several friends to reprint articles. Although dozens of other writings (as well as less “developed” but equally insightful thoughts from friends and worship colleagues) have been significant, two articles rise to the top of the heap in terms of their influence on me:
Dr. Gary Selby: “Yearning To Worship: A Personal Journey.” In that travelogue, Selby described his own pathway in Church of Christ worship, intimating the need for more emotion along with intellect, and more body along with spirit. In addition to contributing to my thought and experience around “holistic” worshipping, Selby’s “journey” metaphor is in itself helpful, suggesting that nothing in personal or congregational life need be static.
Dr. Clifton L. Ganus III: “Worship, Service, and the Christian Assembly.” I believe this cogent piece was written in the late 70s or early 80s; through it, Ganus started me on the path of analyzing what scripture was really talking about when the English rendering was “worship” or “service” or something similar. I have in the intervening years attempted to further such discriminating thought and practice in, e.g., this post.
B. Casey, Sept.-Oct. 2015
Next: influential books in the area of worship