“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon (quoted from a song in “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”)
I feel like I just lived 50 years of a life that wasn’t mine. Movies mean so much to me lately – the right movies, the meaningful ones. The ones that make me cry at the end of them, and grin stupidly, and cringe, and feel every moment along with the characters as though I’m living someone else’s story. I have more spiritual experiences with Blockbuster than I do with my Bible lately… and you know what, I think that’s okay. Whoever said that God had to reach everyone through a single channel?
Last summer my Bible Study leader (well, not really – I call her that for lack of a better title, but I’m not in a Bible Study that she leads, and technically I never have been) told me that if I wasn’t getting anything out of my quiet times, I should drop the routine. Stop going through the list of nine people I had to pray for and a consecutive chapter or two every night, stop going to church if I don’t want to go, and just… worship. I didn’t know what she meant. I’m still not entirely sure I know… at the time I thought she meant turn on some praise choruses and sing along. But worship is so much bigger than that.
Technically, the definition of worship is the adoration of a person or a thing or an idea with all that you are. Churches have reduced it to a simple sing-along at the beginning and end of every service, but I don’t think that anyone would actually claim that this is all it was meant to be. I learned from a John Eldredge book that the old Puritan marriage vows included the phrase, “with my body, I thee worship.” Clearly we’re not talking about singing here… no, this is physical and spiritual adoration to the point of forgetting oneself, or at least that is what it is meant to be. The Puritans used the word to refer both to how we are to relate to God, and to sex, for crying out loud. What are we missing here?
So last summer I got alone in my living room, and turned on some praise music because I didn’t know how else to do it, and pulled out a book on the true nature of worship that my leader/friend had given me. For that one night, something happened… I was sobbing uncontrollably, for hours, and simultaneously thinking, what on earth am I crying about? Something was happening, but I didn’t know what it was. And I wasn’t reading the Bible, or praying in the traditional sense, or sitting in a “revival meeting”, or anything else typically associated with church. I was just sobbing, and asking for redemption, though I wasn’t entirely sure of what.
I don’t know whether it’s been specifically since that night, or just in the last year or so in general, but I have found that beauty means a great deal to me, and it doesn’t matter where it’s found or in what context, whether it’s “religious” or strictly “pure” or not. I love seeing the glory of God reflected in people who don’t know they’re reflecting it – who are simply being who He made them to be. The glory of a bird is in singing, building a nest, feeding its young, and flying through the air – in being a bird, in short. The glory of a cactus is in growing where it was planted, storing water, allowing itself to be used for shelter, casting long shadows on the ground as the day wears on. Just so, the glory of a musician is in composing and performing, in being what he was created to be. Glen Holland believed that his life was going to waste, because he could not do the thing he loved, he could not be what he was meant to be – but it was simply a case of delayed gratification, and perhaps mistaken identity. His glory was in composing, yes, but not just in composing: it was in imparting his joy to others. Isn’t every joy exponentially magnified when it can be shared? Isn’t this the very reason why, when we see something beautiful on our own, the immediate instinct is to think of the person we wish were beside us? He thought that, because he got sidetracked by life and never became a “great composer,” he was a failure. But all the while, he was reflecting the glory imparted to him by imparting that glory to others, and inspiring them to reflect their glory. “We are your symphony,” said Gertrude at the end of the movie, “we are the notes of your opus, and we are the music of your life.” He had missed the point, and it took the others around him to allow him to see it. And perhaps the best part was that all was not lost of his original dream either – he got to conduct his symphony after all. Nothing was wasted. I was in tears.
God gets hold of me through stories, apparently – but maybe more broadly, through beauty (and to that extent, I suspect the statement can be generalized to everyone. To quote John Eldredge once more, is it not always beauty or affliction, in some form or another, that most deeply gets our attention?) And so lately, this seems to be how I worship: running outside to see the sunset at work, if there isn’t a line out the door at the time. Listening to music (even music that has the f-word in it, God forbid). Sometimes I worship through singing praise choruses around a campfire or in my car, or even in church, but I don’t always sing along anymore if I don’t feel like it — when I sing, I want to mean it. I worship through writing, I worship through events, through watching movies that inspire me with the hope that the story all fits together, and anything is possible. I worship through watching the lives of my friends fall into place, and seeing things come full circle.
God might be a little bigger than I thought.