Messy Church founder Lucy Moore rediscovers the meaning of worship.
I’m wrestling in a gloomy sort of way with what worship is. When I was in my 20s, I could have described and defined it with confidence and aplomb. But now, with twice as much life behind me, I find I have less of a clue about anything – and I’m struggling to do so
I stare glumly at the words on the screen, and can’t see the truths for the clichés. Images of God as king, or his ‘reigning on high’ seem outdated and full of negative feudal implications in our modern democratic society. Lyrics such as ‘I fall down on my knees’ leave me (against my better nature) peering round the room to see if anyone’s actually collapsing. And then, when I see no one doing anything other than discreetly swaying a little – because after all it is 10.30 in the morning and nobody gets into emotion until 6pm at the earliest – I try to justify the words by talking about falling to the knees of my heart. But this sounds squishy and anatomically confused. ‘Worthy’ and ‘awesome’ make my eyes narrow in suspicion. Anything with ‘deeper’ or ‘pouring out’ provokes a whimper of apprehension. I could go on but know that my dissatisfaction stems from a problem in me, rather than from the songs themselves. Like someone troughing a bar of exquisite Green and Black’s chocolate every day so that the taste buds finally no longer sit up and beg for the treat, the poignancy and savour disappear from the words because of sheer familiarity. All very Laodicean and, if you haven’t been there yourself, let me assure you, it is bleakly uncomfortable.
Life is something of a gallop from place to place, idea to idea and project to project at the moment. It was good to get away for a couple of days and join in a Christian community where I could just relax and be without responsibilities. But this arrogant and dreary sense of ‘heard it all before’ haunted me even there. Even concepts like ‘grace’, which were once powerful and complex, provoked in me a mean-spirited response of ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’. The songs and their delivery left me flat. Just one thing moved me to tears and I’m still trying to work out what it means. Was it sentimentality? Or was God trying to point out something?
There was a middle-aged couple there who had in their care two girls, perhaps their daughters or maybe their foster children. Both girls were severely disabled and had very little muscular control. They had wasted, immobile limbs. If they spoke it was in grunts or shrieks. But their hair was thick and shiny, well-cut and brushed, and they were dressed in pretty clothes. The adults wheeled them around the paths in brightly-coloured wheelchairs and took them to everything that was on offer. In the evening worship session, the girls lay in their parents’ arms throughout, in a gentle, sensitive embrace. The adults responded telepathically to their every need, glancing at them with love, and to all appearances relishing the feel of the child in their arms. Occasionally they brushed the top of their head with a kiss, propped them up to catch their breath, wiped their mouths or rocked them in time to the music. I never saw that family look impatient, frustrated or hasty.
On a scale of eternity, am I that child lying back, helpless and dependent in a devoted parent’s arms?
Is that worship? The total surrender to God as he dwells in the people around us? The drudgery of a long-term, thankless, unnoticed sacrifice to a helpless child? The acceptance of a burden that faith turns into a joy? On a scale of eternity, am I that child lying back, helpless and dependent in a devoted parent’s arms, so loved and cherished that I’m not even aware of my severe disabilities? This was worship for me at that moment; a wordless mystery of worship that melted clichés. So now I’m standing in a different place. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be on my knees soon.