Heavenly Worship

(1950s) Dad building our church out of mud brick and a tin roof. What remains in 2014 after storm damage.

From my 2013 Journal.

My first memories of church included sitting for hours on a backless mud bench, singing mostly American hymns translated into Hausa, accompanied by my missionary mother playing the accordion. Dad’s preaching would lull me to sleep if Mom didn’t occupy me with crackers. Women sat on one side of the church, men on the other, and nearly-naked children squished shoulder to shoulder on the floor or front pews. In later years, local pastors and women playing indigenous musical instruments led the joyful service.

This week, when one of my African-American neighbors died, his dear wife invited three of us white folks over to meet some of her friends who had arrived to provide comfort. They all circled up, holding hands, singing and praying—loud, long, repetitive, simultaneously. We three stood quietly apart, singing softly, joining in with our hearts. Later, at the funeral, the preacher’s sermon included thunderous shouting, huffing with each sentence, accompanied by organ crescendos and a robed choir.

I thought back to an Easter service at the Eastern Orthodox Church where I visited with a Jordanian friend. Worship included quiet a capella music and chanting, solemn contemplative rituals, and a brief homily. Beautiful icons, candles and incense completed the sensory experience.

At my contemporary interdenominational church, the congregational singing predictably goes from loud hand-clapping, hand-raising, drum-beating musical numbers with guitars and electronic keyboard accompaniment led by a group of performers followed by one quiet song before the conversational-style, 30-minute sermon.

Worship cultures . . . each with their own traditions, expectations, idiosyncrasies. There’s no right or wrong way—unless the heart and mind aren’t engaged.

And my preference? I’m somewhere in the middle—neither monkishly contemplative nor exuberantly outward in expression. Quiet suits me best as an introvert. And call me a heretic, but give me an intimate dialogue or deep conversation any day over a sermon lecture. Yet I still choose to attend churches that might not suit my personal preferences. I need the variety of the body.

What will heaven’s worship be like? In the book of Revelation, John records moments of loud and times of silence. Somehow all nations, tribes, and tongues will be unified in their worship and will enjoy Him together. I can’t wait!

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