Surprised by Joy

Young Ethnic Woman is Very Surpised  C.S. Lewis wrote:

This joy brought me into the region of awe, for I thus understood that in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any state of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective.  Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (although our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired.

–       Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Harcourt Brace 1955)

Lewis’s offering here is one attempt at describing his conversion to Christianity.  One can almost read between the lines to see where even Lewis almost runs out of words that would pinpoint what is taking place within his own spirit as he encounters God.  Can you relate?  Have you been in that “region of awe” and found yourself essentially speechless?  I love the notion of his words, “in deepest solitude there is a road right out of self.”  Sounds so C.S. Lewis, doesn’t it.  In that verbiage he strikes a chord of common experience for me.  One of the ways I know I have encountered God in worship is that I have moved outward from self.  Freedom reigns when the tyranny of self is overwhelmed by the awe of Holy Other.  While Lewis’s effort here is rooted in his conversation, I believe there is application to ongoing spiritual encounters with the Triune God including worship – a most natural response to awareness of His presence.

As difficult as it can be to describe spiritual encounter, I am convinced that music and the arts often work to help the engagement on both sides, revelation and response.  The arts may well prompt our spirits as to the very Presence of God.  This is not to imply that the Holy Spirit is somehow riding on the notes of music, or awakened by sunlight shining through the hue of stained glass, or captured in some other visual display.  Rather, something of the mystery in sights and sounds may alert us to a presence that, as encountered, somehow ushers in surprising joy.  Such a numinous encounter can likewise be aided by arts on the response side, especially music.  A clear biblical response to experiencing joy, such as indicated in Lewis’s spiritual encounter, is music-making, especially singing (James 5:13).

A primary question we often ask in programming proclamation music for worship is, “How will this music work to attract people’s attention?”  Perhaps we should ask, “Does this music reflect anything of God’s character?”  The latter question seems to me to indicate a confidence in God’s own attraction in and of Himself.  It seems unavoidable that worship engages imagination.  Of course, I do not mean “imagination,” such as imaginary friends, or made up stories.  Rather, I mean imagination such that we worshipers’ spirits are stirred and we assign images to the imageless.  Rather than trying so hard to guess what those images might be like in the imaginative minds of worshipers, what if we voiced biblical narrative (God’s story), and then left sufficient space and time for worshipers to discover and respond to the Spirit’s revelation.  Doesn’t so doing reflect our own trust rooted in the Sovereign God to reveal Himself, and show less of a misplaced faith rooted in our attempts at reading people’s minds in the name of being up on our culture?  Such musings and resultant efforts may be well-intentioned, but I am afraid end up drawing more attention to us and our presumptions about the people and culture than they do lifting up the risen and reigning Christ.  Let our worship be characterized by biblical revelation in all aspects – preaching, singing, physical environment, spirit of hospitality, preference of one another above ourselves.

Perhaps in such an atmosphere we might once again be “brought into the region of awe.”  I cannot help but think of the old hymn:

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian when he sings

            It is the Lord Who rises with healing in His wings

                        -words by William Cowper in Olney Hymns

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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