Contextualising worship for Indian Christians

The following exerts are from Indiginized Christian Worship in India: Some Considerations.

Westernized Posture

“Another significant aspect that the Indian church lost in worship was the posture of worship. In most Indian religions worshipers sit on a thick mattress spread on the floor. People sit on the floor, with their legs crossed, as an expression of their respect to their deity. During the time of prayer they kneel, with their heads bowed to the ground. But the Christian churches accepted the Western form of sitting on pews for worship. According to the Hindu tradition no one may enter the place of worship unclean or wearing sandals. But Christian churches do not emphasize these aspects in their worship. In the mind of an Indian these show a lack of respect and devotion to God.”

Westernized Preaching

“Preaching in Indian churches is also influenced by the western heritage. Indian churches typically use an elevated pulpit or a preaching stand. In recent years, influenced by the charismatic preaching seen on international Christian television channels, the preacher tends to move around on the pulpit and preach very loud in his attempt to imitate the Christianity viewed on the television. But in Indian tradition, teachers of the scriptures sit on the floor on a slightly elevated place with the scripture open in a small book holder. The name of the Hindu scriptures, upanishads, is a word picture of this aspect of teaching in Indian context. Upanishad means the inner, or mystic, teaching. The term upanishad is derived from upa (‘near’), ni (‘down’) and s(h)ad (‘to sit’): that is, sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him. This does not match with today’s Christian preaching.”

New Possibilities

Now, say you had Hindu neighbours who expressed interest in learning more about Jesus. You are invited to their house. Could you adapt your worship posture and teaching style to a form they found more natural, even if it felt less natural to you?

On criticising our political opponents

I think we need to return to the gospel. Jesus is our advocate in the court of opinion that matters most. And he’s the same for our political enemies as well for the most part. I have found that the left and the right can both be legalistic when it comes to what others are doing and licentious when it comes to what they themselves are doing. We need to break the cycle and move beyond legalism and licence and towards grace. That does not mean ignoring their injustices but it does suggest we should confess our own even as we point out theirs and put Jesus on the pedestal rather than ourselves. I find if my critiques are tempered with self confession the conversations tend to be more charitable.

Worshipping As You Go

An essential aspect of a sent Christian lifestyle, in my experience, is worshipping as you go. If you’re going to be connecting with God in the world, if you’re going to be modelling church amongst the unchurched, it’s important to develop the discipline of worshipping God, wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got. Even if it’s as simple as meditating on who God is and what God is doing in the world and giving thanks. That can be done anywhere, even outdoors. Indeed being outdoors can even be an aid to that kind of worship.

Worship without artificiality

I don’t know about you, but I find it so much more engaging to worship God without the artificial enhancements of sound systems and electric lighting, to worship God in more natural ways, under the open sky, with my naked feet in touch with the earth. It may sound strange to worship God this way, in this day and age. Yet if we recall the story of Jesus, this is often how he and his earliest followers engaged with God – praising and praying as they crossed fields, mountains, and lakes. It wasn’t so strange to them.

Who are you worshipping Monday to Saturday?

Too often worship is put in a box. Many Christians speak of worship almost exclusively in terms of singing a few songs at a Sunday church service. But if your worship begins and ends on a Sunday, who or what is receiving your adoration and reverence Monday through Saturday?

 

Praying through the Winter Solstice

A prayer by Harry Martin, which I offer in celebration of the southern winter solstice,

Jesus, Love, we seek your coming.

As your servants we join with all creation

in proclaiming your glory.

The winter barren trees look heavenward,

Anticipating the newness of life,

coming in the springs of your resurrection.

The soaring eagle lifts our hearts,

that with your holy angels,

we can climb the heights of your holy hills.

The whiteness of the fresh snow

refracts the light and beauty

that the call of your holiness brings to us.

Jesus, Love, our Creator King,

we rejoice at your coming,

and yet we sorrow.

Your Holy Word shines upon our path.

And we see…

Lives imprisoned and impoverished

by greed.

Country sides crushed and ravaged by wars

where hate, pride and arrogance reign.

We see waters poisoned by neglect,

Birdsongs of praise stilled

by the corruption of need and want.

Creator King, we weep with the doe

seeking her fawn

crushed by the rush of human traffic.

We sorrow with the unborn child

who will never know,

the beauty of the daybreak.

We weep, coming King,

Because we fail to see and cherish,

the holy beauty and joy

of all life and creation you have made.

Winter solstice with East Midlands Forest Church

East Midlands Forest Church have graciously allowed me to share these reflections from a Winter Solstice Ceremony they ran some years ago. I am choosing to publish it now in June, as while they are now approaching midsummer in the UK, we are approach midwinter here in Australia so it’s now that it’s more seasonally appropriate for us.
The Solstice is upon us. The sun has ventured down to the lowest point in the sky, bringing with it the shortest day and the longest of nights. It doesn’t get any darker than this. Since the Autumn Equinox back in September when we experienced the vitality and fruitfulness of nature’s finest mast year, the balance of power has been in the grip of the darkness. We have all experienced the chill of the drawing in of the nights and the gloom of the grey and misty morn.
The rhythms of the natural world around us have ebbed, its energy returning to roots and trunks, or towards hibernation for those animals whose bodies observe this pattern of behaviour. Yet other life continues, the evergreen hope of the holly, ivy, pine, fir, cypress, cedar and yew; the sound of geese and other birds who migrate here in search of shelter and food from their harsh homelands. Life goes on, but at a slower pace than before.
In all traditions, it is seen as a time of celebration, and rightly so, for on the Winter Solstice, the light will once more return, bringing along with it the warmth necessary to revive that which is dormant.
In the story of certain traditions it is the time where the Winter Queen reigns, where the fight in the wyld wood between the giants of leaves, the Holly and Oak Kings comes to a head, and the dark Holly King surrenders his crown to the lighter Oak King, to rule once more from now until the Summer Solstice. We are reminded that in the darkness, light has always been present, fighting valiantly, so that even the smallest light can never be fully smothered by darkness, and we know the promised cycle of the seasons will continue as long as the earth endures. Hope remains in that promise, no matter how barren the landscape, the land will be reborn every spring. Some even tell the story of Yule and the birth of the Sun God at this time.
In the Christ Tradition, it is a time for celebrating the incarnation of the Sun of Righteousness, the one of whom the ancient prophets spoke; the Divine Child of Promise, a child who brought hope, light and justice in a world of turmoil and darkness. His birth was announced in the skies in two ways. Firstly, a heavenly host of angelic beings to the lowest of the low, the shepherds in their fields at night, showing that the Divine is interested in those generally cast out by society. It was also announced by three triple conjunctions of the planets Venus, the mother, and Jupiter, the father, and the King Star, Regulus in the constellation of Leo, the Lion of Judah. It was an immutable sign, one which the ancient world marvelled at. Those in high places, who listened to the voices of the ancient prophets and opened their hearts to leading of the Eternal Spirit were moved to trek hundreds of miles in order to worship the Christ Child.
Like the sun moving down from its high point at the Summer Solstice, to its lowest at the Winter Solstice, the Sun of Righteousness moved from the highest heavens to this earthly plane at his incarnation. And from the highest ranks of the Magi, to the lowest outcasts in the shepherds, the Divine calls all humanity into deep relationship, regardless of our background or past experiences.
At this time where our very life breath becomes visible to us in the cold, may we give thanks for that breath each day, and may we seek the Light Eternal to illuminate our hearts, minds and spirits, that we too may walk in the light. May we remember that spell of the White Queen, that seeks to keep us ever in Winter, but never Christmas, has been broken so we can live in the hope of Immanuel, God with us.

Are we an answer to the prayer of Jesus?

On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

It is evident therefore, that far from expecting the world to meet the church where the church is at, Jesus expected the church to meet the world where the world is at. Jesus didn’t model an invitational strategy, he modelled a visitational strategy. Jesus didn’t see his community as hosts, he saw them as ambassadors.

So, are we prepared to be an answer to the prayer of Jesus?