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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

Worship Language: Activist

Hello everyone,

Welcome to the next entry in our exploration of the Worship Languages. You better be ready to get up off your butts, because today we’re talking about The Activist!

The crusading knights of our age, Activists worship God through confronting evil and injustice.

If you find yourself railing against the fallenness of humanity and speaking up for those who are oppressed, you’re probably an Activist. If you connect deeply to God’s justice and want to see evil stopped in its tracks, you’re probably an Activist. If you just can’t sit and watch while children are trafficked and women are abused, you’re probably an Activist.

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Traditional church services are often not the place Activists feel closest to God. They need to be out on the street or in the courts fighting against the darkness. However, testimonies from parachurch organizations or updates about a church’s street-level ministries may speak deeply to the Activist. When he or she is able to see their body at work as the hands and feet of Christ, they will be inspired and fed.

Activists should be able to fight against injustice each day. If this is your Worship Language, perhaps signing up with Voice of the Martyrs or another similar organization’s newsletter can keep you informed of what’s going on in the world. From there, you can sign petitions, write letters, or perform vigilante justice at night while dressed as a bat. Your choice.

For the Activist artist, allow your passion for justice to fuel your art and allow your art to serve your fight against evil. Create documentaries that dig deeply into the painful realities of those you feel drawn to. Use photography or poetry or dance to reflect the brokenness of the world and call others into action alongside you. We don’t always have the resources to fight societal evils and structured oppression, but we can inspire those who have the resources.

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Activists need to remember, however, that our God is a God of grace as well as justice. The drive to oppose evil can cause the Activist to forget that behind each act of evil is a lost and broken person in need of Christ’s redemption. Though we can hate the evil in the world, we are never called to hate other people.

Bottom line for Activists: Fight the good fight, but remember that no person is beyond God’s redemptive plan for Creation.

If you are an Activist, how do you connect with God?

Blessings

 

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Worship Language: Ascetic

Hello everyone,

Today we’re going to continue our journey into the Worship Languages, which we’ve adapted from Gary Thomas’ Spiritual Pathways. If you’re just catching up, you may want to check out the Naturalist, the Sensate, and the Traditionalist. Today, however, we are going to be talking about the Ascetic.

Ascetics (not to be confused with Aesthetics, which has to do with how things look) are those who worship God through silence and solitude.

Almost the polar opposite to the Sensate, the Ascetic finds God in the still, quiet moments of the day when everyone has gone to bed, or in the dark of pre-dawn. They often find the world and other people to be distracting from the voice of God. In order to really hear from Jesus, the Ascetic needs to get away and be by her/himself. They do not need worship music or brilliant imagery to be drawn into God’s presence. In fact, the life of a monk may seem quite appealing if this is your primary worship language.

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If you find yourself overwhelmed by the distractions of the world, you may be an Ascetic. If you like to cloister yourself away to spend time in prayer without the distractions of life, this is probably one of your worship languages. 

Churches can be both incredibly helpful and quite the hinderance to an Ascetic. The church building itself is often a quiet, lonely place when services are not going on. An Ascetic can hear the voice of God in the solitude of an empty sanctuary. However, weekend services are rarely marked by moments of silence. They are filled with music and teaching and people and handshaking, which do not draw the Ascetic the same way they draw some of the other languages.

If you are an Ascetic, I suggest you show up to church early. Spend time in the sanctuary before the service starts. If you kneel and close your eyes, people will probably leave you alone. You can also get up early or stay up late to use the silence of a sleeping house to speak to God. Retreat centres are often built around the idea of getting away by oneself, so check out a centre near you. I’ve had a very fruitful time at a silent retreat and look forward to doing so again. (Side note, if the idea of a silent retreat is causing you some anxiety, you probably are not an Ascetic).

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For the artist, alone time may be vital for your creative process. As a writer, I rarely write around the house because it is loaded with distractions. I like being around people, but I need to isolate myself with music (or even just headphones with nothing playing) to get anything done. I suggest you take time by yourself to connect with Jesus, hear from Him, and then create out of that filling up.

The danger of asceticism lies in its isolation. We are a communal species and we need others to do life with. While it is healthy to get away and spend time by ourselves (even every day), we still need to spent time with others as well. If our spirituality is bound up in spending quiet time with God, we can forget that we are called to love and serve others and to take the Gospel to those in desperate need of God’s love.

Bottom line for Ascetics: Get away from life for a while to connect with your Creator and recharge your batteries, but then return to the rest of the world to spread the love and joy that you find in your solitude.

If you are an Ascetic, how do you connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Traditionalist

Hello everyone, and welcome to the third Monday of Lent. How are you all doing with fasting and prayer? I ask because today we are talking about our next Worship Language: the Traditionalist.

For those who are just tuning in, you can find the Naturalist here and the Sensate here.

Traditionalist is my primary worship language. Which also makes sense, growing up in the Catholic Church. I know traditions are often viewed as stuffy, old fashioned, or even empty, but please bear with me. There’s more going on here.

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Traditionalists connect to God through tradition (shocker!), ritual, and symbol. Ancient spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, liturgy, and the sacraments draw the Traditionalist closer to God. Sacred spaces like cathedrals or the Roman catacombs will “feel” more holy because they have been set apart for worshipping God for hundreds, if not thousands of years. They may be drawn to the forms of worship that they grew up with or prefer older hymns to newer worship songs.

Our churches can do much for the Traditionalist in the congregation. Frequent observance of the sacraments (Baptism and Communion for most Protestants; Catholics will add Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick) will allow the Traditionalist to feel a connection to God and His people. Observing the rhythms of the church calendar, like Lent and Advent, also help the Traditionalist to sanctify their everyday lives.

If you find your heart soaring while reciting the Apostle’s Creed, you may just be a Traditionalist. For your journey, I suggest you dig into some ancient disciplines, such as Lectio Divina or create a Rule of Life in the vein of the Rule of St. Benedict.  You may find prayer labyrinths to be useful for clearing your mind of clutter to better focus on God. If your church doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar, find ways to observe and celebrate Lent and Advent at home each year with friends and family.

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Traditionalist artists may find if useful to study the symbolism of the early church. Look into how the masters of your medium have used those symbols, whether in painting, or writing, or film, and try to incorporate some of these symbols in your practice.

Like all of the worship languages, Traditionalists have dangers they need to avoid. The comfort of a ritual can allow the act or symbol to become mundane and empty if we are not careful. We need to remember that the acts are not what is important, but the God that they point to. Traditions are only valuable so long as we continue to use them to pour our hearts out to God and allow them to enrich our lives.

This doesn’t mean we abandon our disciplines when they become rote; it means we constantly strive to ensure they continue to perform their function: to draw us into the presence of our Creator.

Bottom line for Traditionalists: create space for traditions and spiritual rituals in your life while allowing God to fill those moments with meaning by His presence.

If you are a Traditionalist, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Sensate

Hello everyone,

I’m excited to write today’s post because this is one of my top two worship languages. For those who missed the rundown of what worship languages are and our first entry in the series, you can find both here.

Today, though, we are going to be talking about Sensates: those who worship God through the senses.

The vivid colours and delicate lines of a stained glass window draw a Sensate in. The smell of flowers or incense or even fresh bread can be a form of worship. A soft melody or heavy drumbeat turn the sensate towards their creator. Theirs, like the Naturalists, is a faith that is tied to the physical world.300px-Incense-smoke-and-censer-thurible

Many churches, especially older, more traditional ones, cater well to Sensates. The aforementioned stained glass and incense let the Sensate know they are in the presence of God. The crack of a broken communion host/cracker and the bite of communion wine (or sickly sweet smell of grape juice) draws the Sensate into the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. Art, music, and architecture all speak to the Sensate, reminding him or her of God’s beauty, transcendence, or immanence.

If you find yourself drawn in by your senses, take time to savour the experiences created by the world around you. Allow the taste of honey to remind your of God’s sweetness. Close your eyes and listen to the harmony of several human voices singing praise to our Lord. Light candles, burn incense, and fill your house with art. Create a rich landscape from which you can be forever reminded of your Creator.

I imagine there are quite a few artistic Sensates out there. If you are one of them, use it! Create music that stirs your soul. Get your hands messy when you paint. Feel the floor and the air and the beat as you dance. Create experiences for others that interact with all of the senses, including touch and taste and smell. Help to immerse others in the beauty of God.ballet-studio-floor-large.jpg

Like the Naturalists, however, Sensates need to keep their eyes ultimately upon Jesus or they risk worshipping the created over the Creator. Gluttony can replace an appreciation for taste. Objectification can replace an appreciation of beauty. Remember, we are Sensates, not hedonists.

Bottom line for Sensates: allow this world to point you to God and use all of the senses to draw others into an experience of worship.

If you are a Sensate, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Naturalist

Hello everyone,

I hope this post finds you in a place of deep connection with God. As we move into the Lenten season, I want to talk about how we connect with and worship our Creator.

Our church’s Design Team has been using Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways to inform how we craft our services to best serve our congregations. For those unfamiliar with Thomas’ book, he outlines nine pathways by which we connect with and worship God. Each person will have one (or more) paths that they are drawn to and will likely have paths that do not come easily at all. For clarity’s sake, we have decided to use the term Worship Language to emphasize the idea that these are ways we speak to, hear from, and worship our God.

For those keeping track, here are the nine languages/pathways:

Naturalist
Sensate
Traditionalist
Ascetic
Activist
Caregiver
Enthusiast
Contemplative
Intellectual

Today, we’re going to start our exploration with the Naturalist.

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Naturalists connect with God outside. They deeply feel God’s presence when surrounded by the majesty of the mountains, or sweeping plains, or a delicate flower. God left His fingerprints all over His creation, and the more unspoiled this creation is, the more Naturalists can see the Creator.

If you find yourself stunned by the beauty of the outdoors, you may be a Naturalist. If you hear God’s voice more clearly when you get out of the city and go on a hike, you may be a Naturalist. If you find cities to be scars of human sinfulness on God’s otherwise perfect Creation, you may be a Naturalist.

Churches can find it hard to create experiences that allow Naturalists to worship God with their native language. Large windows with natural light, plant life, gardens, or pictures/paintings of nature can help. Sermons on the first two chapters of Genesis may do it. Farming metaphors or outdoorsy stories may speak better.

For any Naturalists reading this, it may be in your best interest to take time regularly to go out into nature just to be with God. Go to a retreat centre away from the city. Go for a hike alone or with fellow Naturalists and spend time soaking in the glory of God. Speak to Him and listen when you are away from the distractions of home and hearth.

You may also benefit from filling your home and work with landscape or wildlife photography. If you can, find an office with a view of the mountains. Or, build yourself a nice little cottage by the lake.

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View from my office…wonderful on a clear day!

For your art, find a way to incorporate Creation into your creation. This may already be happening, if Naturalist is your primary worship language, but perhaps its something you should start looking into.

The danger for Naturalists is the temptation to worship God’s Creation instead of God Himself. Nature is beautiful, but remember that all of Creation was marred by humanity’s fall. As long as nature points to its Creator, you are good.

Bottom line for Naturalists: find more ways to be outside, talking and listening to God. From this place, join Him in creating!

If you are a Naturalist, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings,

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