In the previous post , I shared about how God created us with five amazing senses and how, particularly throughout the Old Testament, we see God providing his people with ways to worship that use all of these senses. I contrasted this holistic view of worship with how, generally speaking, much of our contemporary worship leaves most of our senses out of the equation. So, if we are going to worship God with our whole being, what are some ways to re-engage our senses in corporate worship?
Well, I don’t pretend to have all of the answers to such a large question, but here are a few thoughts about how we can worship visually. Maybe as we think about how to worship with our sight it will give us clues about how we can worship with the other senses.
How can visuals draw us into worship?
It’s one thing if we’re talking about seeing a sunset or some other private moment when we, as individuals, are struck by the beauty of creation and praise the Creator. But what about corporate worship? When we gather together as the Church, how can visuals draw us into worship of God?
Well, if this is about worship, clearly this goes beyond simply having our church facilities decorated nicely. I don’t want to minimize this completely; I think it’s true that decor can create a certain visual tone that is (or isn’t) conducive to worship. Decor can also give subtle cues which highlight various Gospel themes, etc. That being said, I think visual worship needs to go beyond decor.
Props are another visual form which are common in many contemporary churches. Sermon series will have sets constructed, lighting set, and images projected all of which serve to focus those gathered on a certain theme or concept (although I’ve also been in many situations where these sets and props serve no other discernible purpose than to look ‘cool’ and ‘contemporary’). When done well, these sorts of visuals can work, like decor, to subtly unite our sense of sight with the other forms of communication in worship. And yet, for all these potential benefits, I don’t think these forms of visuals get to the heart of what visual worship can be. After all, by relegating the sense of sight to nothing more than offering ‘visual-aids’ for the sermon we fall back into that mode of thought where the spoken word is the true centre-piece and all other senses simply exist to support what is spoken. It’s not that this is wrong, per se; I just don’t think this strikes to the heart of how sight can draw us into worship.
Because art can work at a much deeper level than all this.
Yes, visuals can help focus our thoughts and aid in the process of Christian education. That’s all fine and good. But, clearly there’s more to it than that. Famed Christian art historian and critic Hans Rookmaaker once said that true art must stand up to the question, “Does it do the truth?”
Isn’t that a great question? Does this piece of visual art do the truth? It’s not just about whether there is an ‘accurate’ portrayal of something (flannelgraph can do that!), but does it do the truth? I think what Rookmaaker was getting at was, does this image intentionally draw the viewer into something more, something deeper than what is seen on the surface level?
One example of a piece of art, intended for use in worship, which does the truth is “Mary Consoles Eve” by Grace Remington which you can see here.
Obviously, this piece of art is not ‘historically accurate.’ However, the more one meditates on the imagery, a whole host of Biblical allusions come to mind. More than that, the more one examines the composition, our emotions are drawn in as we see the expressions on their faces; we can sympathise with the characters and their situations. The more we let the art do truth to us, the more we stand in awe and worship the God who worked such a reversal in the lives of these women, from Eve’s rebellion to Mary’s submission and our great hope of redemption.
I’m no art critic, so I’m sure there’s a lot more going on here. But I think this is a great example of art that can draw us beyond the surface and into a greater truth and revelation of who God is, what he has done, and what he continues to do.
Once we realise what worship-oriented art can actually accomplish, then we also understand that visual worship isn’t about decorations, props, or the latest, greatest visual technologies.
It’s not about effective visual-aids or even about ‘appreciating art.’
It’s about worship; about being drawn deeper into a relationship with the God who made us and wants us to love him with every part of who we are.
Coming out of all this, over the past two Advent seasons a handful of our very own artists at MBC have put themselves out there and attempted to help us worship visually by creating their own pieces of liturgical art.
Last Advent we looked at the four stories in Luke 1 which lead up to the birth of Jesus. (Click on each picture for high-resolution)
This year, as we seek to Prepare the Way of the Lord, each week our artist has been adding another ‘piece of the puzzle’ which will create a larger whole which reveals what God was accomplishing in the coming of Jesus.
I hope that you can take advantage of these attempts to offer a way for you to visually engage in worship. Over the coming weeks I hope you can take a few moments, not just to ‘appreciate the art’, but to prayerfully meditate on these images, asking the Spirit of God to move you, challenge you, and reveal something to you about who he is.