19 June 2008

Aesthetic grace

If you have ever pondered the aesthetic particularities of the most meaningful worship experiences you remember (e.g. "How did people come to know the Lord before 'Amazing Grace' was written?"), then you should read this short essay by Tobias Wolff. It's not long. Read it all.

This ran in the June 9th New Yorker among a collection of essays on "Faith and Doubt" (thanks, Steve). The message is more than merely "Different strokes, different folks." It's that grace moves in dynamic and frighteningly unpredictable ways. A sermon, a poem, a painting, or an anthem can be meaningless to one person and life-changing to the next. Even more alarming, that creation can be meaningless to me now, but in another moment, under another set of circumstances, can take on great significance. Can it be that factors like timing and individual attitude - that is to say, chance - matter as much as or more than the content of our carefully prepared sermons, poems, paintings, and anthems?

Most of my feelings about worship center around the insistence that worship be about God, not us, assuming that by orienting ourselves toward God, we get whatever it is that we really need. Wolff's essay, on the other hand, starts and ends with "what we really need," suggesting that the particulars of those needs may vary from person to person and moment to moment. While that contingency frightens me - I like the idea of at least being capable of "meeting people where they are" - I'm just going to choose to take it as good news that God works through human creativity, and often in spite of it, over the long haul.

1 comment:

Jim said...

It is liberating to realize that God can and will work with us and inspite of us. You will likely plant good seeds with others throughout a life of service and only occasionally see fruit. That is why I always appreciate your reminder that God does not require a certain level of result, he only requires that we be faithful.