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?

Remembering all living things in prayer

This prayer is commonly attributed to Saint Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century, though this is somewhat contested. Irrespective of it’s origins I think we can benefit from it.

 

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers, the animals, to whom Thou gave the earth as their home in common with us. We must remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realise that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life

Hebrew poetry for non-Hebrews

I find that, if I am going to try and write a psalm of praise and worship, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the poetic devices I have at my disposal. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up from my research and experimentation.
Poetic devices not normally present in Hebrew poetry
  • meter
  • rhyme
Poetic devices used in Hebrew that do not normally survive translation
  • repetition of sounds -alliteration, assonance andparonomasia
  • acrostic
Poetic devices used in Hebrew that do translate well
  • Synonymous parallelism – second line repeats the first in different words having the same meaning
  • Antithetic parallelism – second line contrasts with the first
  • Synthetic parallelism –  second line adds to the first
  • Climactic parallelism – successive lines build to a climax or summary
  • Eclectic parallelism – combination of different types interwoven
  • Emphatic parallelism – synonymous words used for emphasis
  • Emblematic parallelism – literal statement is contrasted with a metaphor or a simile
  • External parallelism – syntactic units balance one another across multiple verses
  • Introverted parallelism – the order of the parallel elements is reversed (also known as chiasmus)