Original post at http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1563
Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring what it might mean to think about worship as a conversation with God. We’ve explored the various different ways that such a conversation might be initiated (Causative Voices) and what it would mean for us to agree with God and God with us (Collaborative Voices). So far so good.
But, now we come to a movement that is far less familiar and comfortable than what we’ve explored thus far. In any conversation that seeks to increase the intelligence or effectiveness of the group, there is a need for what I call the Contrary Voice. If all we do is sit around agreeing with one another, we never learn anything new, and we never have any reason to question our assumptions. This means that we become stagnant or stuck, and our responses to the world become fixed, rigid and thoughtless. Agreement is nice, but for growth to happen, we need to be challenged, questioned, and pushed to think more deeply and carefully.
In all spiritual traditions this sense of the Contrary Voice can be found. There are the dark night of the soul moments, the via negativa (negative way) moments, or, in theology, the apophatic tradition (or negative theology). All of these various streams of thought recognise that we need moments when we are disrupted, when our assumptions are challenged, and when we are forced to go deeper, to try again, to learn more, or change direction.
At its heart, this is what repentance is all about. The Scriptures regularly reveal the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus confronting thinking, attitudes and behaviours in people that are stuck, unhelpful, or even destructive. The purpose of these confrontations is not to heap guilt on people, but to lead them into a new way of being. It is to reveal the inadequacy of people’s current patterns of living, and challenge them to seek new, better ways.
If our worship never leaves us feeling like God is a contrarian, if we never face a divine “No!”, if we are never challenged, or questioned, or disrupted, it is unlikely we will ever really be changed by anything we do in our worship gatherings. A spirituality that does nothing but make us feel comfortable is worthless. We all too easily give in to our worst selves, and we need to be held accountable. We need to be challenged, and we need to be changed so that our best selves can emerge, and so that we can be a positive influence on our corner of the world.
Which is why we should expect, fairly regularly, to experience God’s Contrary Voice in worship. We should expect – we should even seek out – opportunities to be shaken out of our complacency and self-satisfaction and be confronted with the things in us that need to be healed and transformed.
Of course, worship has always had practices that are designed to do exactly this (although we often tend to domesticate them so that they can disrupt us very little). Perhaps the primary “contrarian” practice is confession. But, we are also faced with God’s “No!” when we receive the ashes on Ash Wednesday, or when we practice the Lenten disciplines of prayer, giving and fasting, or when we meditate on the cross on Good Friday. We hear God’s “No!” when we read the prophetic Scriptures, and when we listen to the confrontational teachings of Jesus. And we hear God’s “No!” when we are forced to welcome those with whom we would prefer not to mix, or when we are forced to sing music we don’t like, or when we are encouraged to greet each other in a language that is not our own. Any time something in our worship makes us uncomfortable we have the choice either to allow the Contrary Voice of God’s Spirit to disrupt and change us, or to settle back into our rigid, self-protectiveness and complain about what we don’t like.
The amazing thing about all this is that, according to James Surowiecki (in his book The Wisdom of Crowds) studies have shown that the presence of Contrary Voices always make a group collectively more intelligent – even when those voices are wrong! So, even if we have a good theological reason for objecting to whatever upsets us, we cannot deny that the discomfort holds the potential for growth, change, and a deeper engagement with God.
So here’s the million dollar question: How willing are you to be disrupted and challenged by your worship?