Practices, tools, technologies and roles

From Flying Lessons by Rob Mills“Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel … its arrangement, its exits and entrances — its whole design and all its regulations and laws … This is the law of the temple: All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy”.  Ezekiel 43:10-12 (NIV)

What I have attempted to do thus far is to present a re-envisioning of the concept of Worship. This has been an exercise in faith-imagination, and up to now, it remains theoretical. We have specifically tried to pull back from specifics, so that we can get away from habit, cliché, or tradition, into a space of imagination, in order to re-envision who G-d is or may be. This means forgetting worship as an activity or a form, for a while, so that we can attempt to get to its essence. Then charged by faith-imagination we can come to it anew.

I feel a little nervous, it must be said, coming down from this tower of Ivory, into the real world. I feel like the pure and philosophical is going to be tarnished with the prosaic and the practical. But then I think of the magnificence of the Incarnation, where G-d who is all-poetry, all-truth, chose to be born man and enter history, where Love could be put to the real test of living, to be tempted by all things, boredom, change, suffering, rejection. So with a deep breath, here goes…


A good word to introduce here is Liturgy. This means “work of the people”, and might be the perfect way to describe the creative, the sacred and the communal all in one. Of course, to most people it smacks of religiosity, so we must note that we are trying to reclaim its meaning anew.

Communion at The Cosmic MassI’d bet that most people would consider Liturgy to be the work of the Clergy. As such their view of how to do worship will be pretty religious, and most lightly pretty boring. So, firstly we need to affirm that liturgy is what people, the laity, the proletariat, you and me, do. It does not need to be a formula, but can mean how we apply our imaginations to life.

Liturgy then is about the whole of life. (Repeat this three times, light the candle, then hit the gong to move on…). What follows however, pertains mostly to meetings, and in fact to church meetings, although these give only one model of how to express worship creatively. Activities of organisations like The Cosmic Mass are examples of liturgy re-interpreted. What characterises a meeting of this nature is community and people who are willing worshipers.

The Space
To honor space, it might be best to clear an area of chairs and pews. However, for hospitalities sake, seating should be available (I do like a good retro pouf) … There will always be a mix of participators and spectators.

Consider removing the pulpit in order to devolve the sense of structure and authority into the community. Musicians should also be free to roam, and placed if possible in such a way as to integrate with the non-musicians. Worshipers need to be free to face any direction. Directional exercises such as speaking to the four winds will help people to visualize a G-d who is omnipresent. Dance and movement are core to this worship, and the space should be determined accordingly. Dancers should be given preference to non-dancers. Water should be made available for rehydration, preferably served with ice and lemon or lime slices in fine crystal flutes.

The beauty of a building or its décor is important, and attempts to maximize a creative atmosphere in a space (normally drab and functional if rented) should be made. Flowers, plants and greenery, together with interesting objects, sculpture and artwork, will enhance the atmosphere immeasurably.

Sound and its arrangement are vital to the spatial planning – see the section on technologies later on.

All modes of expression should be considered.

  • Dance and movement are primary. The separation of dance from music in Western Tradition is one of the more damaging dualisms to have occurred. In African worldviews, there is conceptually no difference between a song and a dance. One sings a dance and dances a song. It is perfectly valid to move without explicitly singing. The scriptures instruct us to “Love the Lord your God with all your strength …”. This means potentially, every muscle in our bodies.
  • Rhythm and groove are key tools to celebration. Groove is rhythm which finds “Joy in repetition” (to quote Prince), and like a river current carries the participant forwards. Music which emphasizes rhythm over harmony is appropriate.
  • Activities of Silence are vital. The honoring of space, stillness and quietude are as important as the making of creative sound. See the blog posting on “Silence”.
  • Song is always central. Song forms which allow ease of participation, such as simple chants which work well with Groove based music, are appropriate. The complexity of hymnody with many dense verses and complex melodies and harmonies is far less appropriate to a spirit of freedom than rhythmic chanting.
  • Instrumental music, not as a tolerated interlude, but as a core means of expression, is apt: People can encounter and experience much that lies beyond manipulative wordage. The DJ can play a pivotal role here – see “Roles” below.
  • Speech is the most obvious activity in most meetings. It is generally used to organize, admonish, teach and preach. These things are all good, but their over use as opposed to other expressions mean that they need to find a balanced place in the scheme of things. Above al things, speakers should consider their words carefully. Speaking is an art form. Rappers note: you are very cool, so don’t be over-anxious. Just chill a little, and experiment with the power of less is more. (Atually that goes for every art form – verbosity kills!)
  • Poetry should be used. The tools employed by poets reveal to us ways of seeing that can be highly illuminating. See the blog posting on “A Poetic God”.
  • Drama and enactment are further powerful ways of a community expressing itself. See the blog posting “A Dramatic God”.
  • Ritual needs to be embraced, as a creative expression rather than a habit. Small gestures of devotion – the lighting of candles, breaking of bread, go a long way to firing the imagination in G-d.
  • Traditional Liturgies can be used to great effect, if we can overcome the prejudice we hold regarding their misuse in history. There are events driven by the Calendar such as Easter or Advent. It should be noted that these are usually Roman, but can be Celtic or Hebraic festivals like Beltane or Passover too. There are seasonal liturgies and festivals such as Harvest, and historical remembrances.
  • The Charismatic movement in the Church has brought a great deal of creativity into worship, in as far as it has practiced a faith in the so-called Gifts of the Spirit . Many of these express themselves as spontaneous activities; prophesy, speaking in tongues, “words of knowledge”, as well as prayers for healing and wholeness. They are often inclusive and communal, but can obviously be misused.

We might define technology as that which amplifies the natural human experience. It means that we can project sound and vision so that many people can access what is happening. The use of technology is taken for granted but needs to be used with caution. Marshall McLuhan pointed out that new technology whilst extending or amplifying our abilities also amputates other abilities.

  • Sound
    Sound Tools include a PA system including microphones mixers and speakers. Sound engineers should be included in the “Signal Chain” as integral parts of the creative expression. Output formats such as surround sound can be very instrumental in creating an enveloping experience, although this risks a complexity which might not pay off; stereo is a very good basis for a spread sound. Digital Audio Workstations such as Ableton Live bring unprecedented expressive control to the electronic musician/DJ. A variety of instruments should be used as a means of expressing the vast array of sonic colours available. Whether they are familiar ones such as organs and guitars, or new, exotic or unusual, they need to be played with skill and imagination. It is better to have silence and to use other means of expression than to be unmusical or insensitive in ones playing.
  • Projected Visuals
    Through the use of Projectors and large screens, visuals can be very effective in worship. These through software such as VJamm or Resolume can involve Live Mixing (A VJ – Video Jockey – should be a creative who can bring together sound and appropriate visual elements). The content for this can be widespread: Words (Lyrics, quotes or scriptures), Stills (photos, clippings, and web pages, community-particular content such as artist works or community activities), abstract computer generated washes, moving content (movies and clips from various sources), and Live camera feeds to the audience.
  • Sentient objects
    It is important to keep a balance with real things. This includes objects of beauty or ritual, sculptures, crafts, and found or natural objects. A classic component of Christian meetings would be the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The chalice and the platter are objects with tremendous sacred and artistic potential. Other elements can be useful in order to involve the senses – Fire, Smoke and incense.
    I always feel that food has a potentially sacred quality, and eating together is a high point of community. I felt I should mention this although how to integrate eating and relaxing with the more intense and focused activities above will probably be a creative challenge.

New Roles
There are a number of roles I would like to highlight as being key to Doing Worship. These are the DJ, the VJ, MC (Master/Matron of Ceremonies) and Installation Curator.

  • The DJ role opens up the musical expressions to ALL music not just “worship” music or self-composed music. It’s very inclusive. There is a universe of music to share with people, the DJ can do this. Of course, if the DJ is a musician, this is a great way to mix “imported” and original music.
  • The VJ takes responsibility for Projected Visuals, and live visual mixing. They should have a rich library of visual resources – stills, movies, text, available to be brought on line in response to a move of the Spirit or the general creative flow. A record of the activities or portraits of members of the community present great potential for meditations or prayer.
  • The MC is essentially a focus for Hosting and hospitality. They give a group confidence and help tie together the whole liturgy, assisting with the flow of events.
  • The Installation Curator is a role borrowed from the art world. A curator is associated with overseeing an exhibition of normally visual art. The installation is a term used to include many types of creative output, not only visual art. Installations are often constructed outside of galleries, in public places for example. They often include a heterodox, multimedia approach utilizing sound and the tactile experiences of sculpture and other constructions, and may be very hi tech in their use of digital and wireless technologies.

My reflections above are just the start. I ask you the reader to add ideas and comments to this list. What do you do or would you like to do, to appropriately and worthily worship a Living God?