Monday, June 4, 2012

Worship & emotion -- concluding (?) thoughts

Back in April, before the semester got really overwhelming, I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) asking questions about worship and emotion. I was considering a third post on the "objectivity" of worship and even of joy.

I still think these are questions worth asking, but I don't know that I've come to any strong conclusions about them. I do believe that we are commanded to rejoice, and that rejoicing may or may not correspond to our subjective feelings at a given moment. And on one hand, I don't think it matters whether we're "feeling it." It's right to rejoice because God is, objectively and unchangingly, who He is, whether or not our broken affections can bear that, can rightly display it. As I learned from the Eucharistic prayers back in my Anglican days, "It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." (Better yet: "It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee...")

On the other hand, if we are being increasingly "renewed in the whole man after the image of God," then I would think that includes our emotions, just like the rest of us. If we are truly being fitted for heaven -- growing by grace into the eternal worshipers we were created to be -- then does it make sense to say that, even though it will always be marred by sin in this life, the subjective side will increasingly come to match the "objective" joy of our worship? Even if not always in a warm and happy way, then in a deeper, more abiding way that makes much of God and less of ourselves? I don't know. But I find it fascinating to think of, and hopeful to trust that someday, my affect will be healed and whole and rightly oriented all of the time

I do hope to spend more time studying what Scripture says about worship and emotion (in whatever senses the Bible speaks of emotion, an intriguing question in itself). But what I've felt convicted of lately is not so much that my disposition in worship is joyless, but that it's slothful: I don't make study of God's Word a priority, and in practice, I don't think that preparing my heart for worship is all that necessary. If I'm honest, I don't believe that we really have to keep the Sabbath holy nowadays. I love the Reformed theology of the sacraments with its emphasis on preparation for receiving the Lord's Supper -- but the truth is that I don't love it enough, because if I did, I would follow it. It seems the change my heart needs is even more fundamental than I'd realized.

I don't think my blog is necessarily the place to continue working all of this out. Except to say that I'm thankful for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to rejoice and how to worship, all for God's own glory.

1 comment:

  1. Since you asked for thoughts in the first post and I was negligent to respond, mostly because I hadn't thought about it yet, I will now respond with a few of my thoughts of late.

    I've been thinking about this a good bit lately. In fact, the other night I asked Ryan whether he felt our church pandered to emotions in the worship style. The question stemmed from my experience at Gethsemane, where the office was sung in the same manner whether it was a happy, sad, vengeful, or other type of psalm. I do think, to a certain extent, the church we attend does cater to emotion in our music, although Ryan and I find ourselves personally rarely moved by it, others certainly have and do. It mattered to me to some extent, because I have been coming to the conclusion, perhaps similar to you, that while emotion is certainly not inappropriate in worship, it is also not the correct gauge for whether a service, or even if one's spiritual life, is in a good place.

    I was struck by something Thomas Merton said in Seeds of Contemplation when I read it. I don't have the exact quote, but he was making clear that a contemplative state, which he describes as sort of a union of wills between one's self and God, is neither antithetical nor linked to emotion. Emotions certainly will happen, and one should not suppress them. Instead, they're nothing, they just wash over one and one appreciates them for what they are and then leaves them be. They might be indicative of something, but ultimately emotion is not what we pursue in the worship of God; we pursue to worship God.

    Those have been the things I'm thinking of late, but I don't know if they make any more sense.