I had a really great worship experience this weekend, and it started me thinking about other worship experiences, and other experiences in general.
So the worship experience I’m referring to is the ordination service I attended (and preached) on Saturday. The service was for one of my outstanding former students, and several old friends were also involved. The student’s home congregation was thrilled to be hosting, and so everyone was in a very festive mood. The service had been carefully planned, so the readings were uplifting and the music was fabulous–we sang two of my very favorite hymns, which I loved. The whole thing was just fabulous all the way around, and I was deeply moved as I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit so strongly in our midst.
Now, there is no question that ordination services are special, so in some ways, perhaps it isn’t fair to compare a “normal” service with such a festive liturgical celebration. But still, it did make me reflect on the fact that, perhaps obviously, I don’t usually feel so moved in a typical service.
Sure, sometimes there are reasons for this: The readings are perplexing or uninspiring, the music isn’t good, the sermon is lukewarm, the crowd is thin. However, if I’m being honest, I must also look at myself, and ask what I bring into the service on a regular basis. Here’s an example: our Eucharist service at the seminary is on Wednesdays at 11:45, and I teach on Wednesdays until 11:30. So, more often than not, I arrive at our chapel a little late, out of breath, and fully distracted. I’m thinking about things that happened in class that morning, I’m thinking about what I have to do in the afternoon, and I’m usually hungry. In short, I do not bring my best self into the chapel, nor do I sit there and eager expectation of the Holy Spirit, whose presence warms and encourages me.
Now, who’s fault is this: mine or the Spirit’s? Obviously, the Holy Spirit shows up unfailingly, so if I fail to notice her, that’s on me.
And, while we’re talking about it, it’s not like the Holy Spirit only shows up inside before walls of the congregation. As we all know, the Holy Spirit is with me every day, all the time: on my morning runs, even those when I am tired and stiff; walking with Henry, working at the computer, talking with students, whatever. And again, if I don’t notice her presence, that’s on me.
So I guess what I have taken from that experience is a renewed attention to the Spirit’s loving invitation to be more attentive to her presence, and not complain that God is absent, just because I’m not feeling it. [And, just to add my Lutheran theological lens here, I am well aware that OF COURSE God shows up where God promises to be, in Word and Sacrament, every. single. time. So, God’s presence is, in fact, no way dependent upon the warming of my heart.]
It reminds me of that Simone Weil piece on paying attention from Waiting for God that my students read a couple weeks ago. She talks about how attention is such a critical part of prayer: how noticing others, noticing God, and giving them our genuine attention is such an important Christian discipline.
This weekend reminded me of that; of what joy attention to God, to the world, and to each other can bring, through the power of the Spirit, always blowing among us.