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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Gary Thomas

Worship Language: Intellectual

Well, everyone, we are at the end of our journey through the Worship Languages. Here are the other eight we’ve been through already:

Naturalist
Sensate
Traditionalist
Ascetic
Activist
Caregiver
Enthusiast
Contemplative

And today, we are going to explore the brainy bunch: The Intellectuals!

Intellectuals worship God with their minds. They love to learn new things about God and are closest to Him during study or while digging into apologetics or theology.

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In church, our Intellectuals are going to be very engaged during a good, thinky sermon. Biblical exegesis, complex theology, or church history may be exactly what they need to connect with God and feel closer to Him. Hymns or worship songs with great theology or scriptural references can also draw the Intellectual in. Hearing a solid philosophical debate can also help the Intellectual to cement their beliefs and feel even closer to God.

Outside of church, a good Bible college can really help the Intellectual. I spent four years at Ambrose University and loved it dearly. Getting concentrated time to sift through Greek texts and the writings of the church fathers and mothers fed my soul in ways that I have not felt since. (Intellectual is one of my top 3 languages, in case you missed that). I still enjoy reading old text and new ideas and hope to go back for my next degree soon.

Intellectual artists (capital I) should allow their study to influence their work. Perhaps a Bible reading can inspire the painter to play with Scriptural themes in their work. A choreographer can try to capture as much of the Trinity that they can in their next piece. A writer can make allusions to older works or church history in their stories. Whatever inspires and draws you closer to God, study it!

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Intellectuals need to be aware, however, that there is a difference between knowing ABOUT God and knowing God. We are called into community with our Creator and we need to spend time in prayer with Him to truly get to know Him. Just as it is not enough for me to study my wife’s likes, dislikes, history, and dreams; I also have to spend time with her, journeying together though life. It is the same with God.

Bottom line for Intellectuals: spend time often in study, but also spend time often in prayer.

If you are an Intellectual, how do you best connect to God?

Worship Language: Contemplative

Hello everyone,

We’re nearing the end of our journey through the Worship Languages. We have two left. It’s been a great experience for me to dig into each of these with you and really think about how we can support our artists who connect to God in different ways, and how artists themselves can better connect with their Creator.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the quiet worshippers: the Contemplatives.

The Contemplative worships God through adoration, meditation, and prayer. They spend their time thinking deeply on the persons of God and speaking to Him at length. They get up early in the morning or stay up late for their devotional time. Contemplatives can sit for a long time just basking in the glow of the face of his or her Father.

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The musical worship of a church service can be helpful for the Contemplative if it allows the worshipper to pour out his or her heart authentically before God. Dedicated prayer time, perhaps with leading questions or statements will also serve our Contemplatives. The sermon can feed a Contemplative if it gives the worshipper more reasons to pour out love and adoration to the Creator. Contemplatives can serve on a prayer team, standing before God on behalf of individuals or the congregation at large, praising Him and asking for His help.

The Contemplative artist should spend much time in prayer before, during, and after the creation of his or her art. Seeking God’s face and His will for your work will allow each brush stroke, each dance step, each shutter click to become an outpouring of one’s adoration. Speak to God as you create, out loud if need be, and listen for His voice in your work.

If you can, get away from life for a time. Like the Ascetic, the Contemplative may find regular life distracting and a retreat can offer an extended time to speak with God and to listen as He responds. Unlike the Ascetic, the Contemplative may enjoy retreating with others and can feed off the words of love and adoration of others. Use this and allow it to push you deeper into God’s love.

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The Contemplative must remember, however, that we live in a world populated with people who need God’s love. If the Contemplative spends all of his or her day gazing into the face of God, he or she runs the risk of forgetting about the mission He has entrusted to His Church. We must love God AND love people.

Bottom line for Contemplatives: create space to spend time with your loving Father, and pour out your love to others as an offering to Him.

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

Blessings

Worship Language: Enthusiast

Happy Easter everyone!

Depending on how your Easter services went (if you attend church, that is), today seems like a very appropriate day to talk about our next Worship Language: the Enthusiast!

(For those just tuning in, here are the other languages we’ve covered so far: the Naturalist, the Sensate, the Traditionalist, the Ascetic, the Activist, and the Caregiver).

The Enthusiast worships God through mystery and celebration. They are looking for an experience with God that going beyond what we can explain or what makes sense. Like the name suggests, enthusiasts love God dramatically and emotionally. They might spend a lot of time with their eyes closed and hands raised while listening to worship music. They may be highly interested in the manifestations of God’s gifts, like tongues or healings or prophecy. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it with enthusiasm!

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The standard weekend service at many evangelical services starts with half an hour or so of worship music, followed by a sermon. It’s during the first half that an Enthusiast will feel closest to God. Surrounded by the bride of Christ, pouring out his or her heart to God in song, the Enthusiast seeks the face of their loving Father. While the structure of a larger church service may hinder the Enthusiast, the combination of light and sound and the collection of the body can usher this worshipper into the presence of God.

For the Enthusiast artist, allow your art into the mystery and celebration. Put on some worship music and spend time seeking God’s face before you pick up pen or brush. Create dance pieces that are uninhibited, full-body acts of praise to the King. Pick up a flag and wave it with all you’ve got. Allow God’s presence to seep into your art, and then allow your art to ooze God back into the lives of others. Perhaps you can create as part of a worship service, or have your art as part of a gallery focused on faith and worship.

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However, the Enthusiast, like the other languages, has dangers to watch out for. In seeking an experience of God, it can become easy to chase the experience and the emotion rather than the God who should be at the heart of such events. Also, while our God is mysterious in that we can never fully know Him, we must keep our eyes open while delving into the mystical. Christian mysticism has been a thing since the earliest days of the faith, but there are those who claim to be Christian mystics who really just sell a Christian-focused New Ageism.

Bottom line for Enthusiasts: give yourself fully to the wonder and mystery of our God while being careful when straying too far from what the rest of the body is doing.

If you are an Enthusiast, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Caregiver

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a thoughtful and inspired Holy Week. It’s Maundy Thursday (the day we remember the Last Supper) as I write this, which I find appropriate considering today’s Worship Language: The Caregiver.mother-teresa-was-she-a-saint-or-sadistic-religious-fanatic.jpg

If you read last week’s post about the Activist and thought, “That’s all well and good, but what about the people who are suffering through all of this?” then you are likely a Caregiver. Caregivers worship God by serving others. While the Activists worship by opposing the evil that oppresses the orphan and the widow, the Caregiver prefers to sit down and meet the needs of the oppressed.

Weekend services can offer the Caregiver many opportunities to interact with others for the glory of God. Volunteering as an usher or greeter or coffee pourer can be an act of worship for the Caregiver. Our church has prayer stations where congregants can ask for prayer from our group of dedicated intercessors. Hurting people come to church every week; Caregivers only need to keep an eye out.

Churches also often offer plenty of service activities outside of Sunday morning. Visiting shut-ins and offering the sacraments (if your church does that sort of thing), singing carols to the elderly, delivering baskets of food or supplies, or participating in a neighbourhood cleanup can all help the Caregiver see Jesus in the faces of those in need.

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For the Caregiver artist, I suggest you allow your art to flow out of your encounters with others. Tell the story of a working single mother. Write poetry for your grandmother to brighten her day. Take photos of a dying cancer patient that shows both their struggle and their dignity. Allow others to inspire your art, and allow your art to bless others.

Caregivers must remember, however, that ultimately, our service is to God. We can get so caught up with the people we are serving (and there are many, many people who need help), that we can forget the One who has called us to service. The pain of the world can be so great that, if we let it, it can overwhelm the hope that comes from above.

The bottom line for Caregivers: find someone to serve and look for Jesus in their eyes. 

If you are a Caregiver, how do you connect with God?

Blessings

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

 

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: 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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