Consider this: “The ordinary fruit fly can change the direction of its flight by 90 degrees in about 50-thousandths of a second.” In an article published on abcnews.com, Lee Dye points out that this maneuvering “has long puzzled scientists and engineers.”
And when this “feat” takes place during a Sunday morning worship service, count me among the puzzled, too.
From my sticky perspective, the sudden movement of a key change can send a swarm of outstretched hands off in all sorts of directions. Meanwhile, my personal soul-buzzing in the sanctuary looks, and feels, far less majestic. Stuck to a screen of PowerPoint flypaper, any stirring on my part is confined to the two-dimensional slide show of lyrics and inspirational images.
Caught in a gummy sheet of self-consciousness, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong with me, even though I tell myself that I must be wired differently and have my own way of worshipping.
But the voices of guilt and self-condemnation don’t give me much room to move. They trap me into believing that I’m an outsider. With my vision rigidly frozen in this line of thinking, my eyes quietly sneak off to the left and right and observe with jealousy how others seem to be soaring effortlessly.
For example, my wife usually wells up with tears during a worship service. Sometimes, when we’re out on a drug store excursion, I’ll point to the waterproof massacres as a perfect solution for her Sunday morning smearing, but then she reminds me that these products leave her eyes feeling dry and itchy.
Recently, I had my own itchy moment. We were driving home from a gospel concert, which was held during the opening week of a newly-renovated historical theater. “Wasn’t it the best?” she asked, still blotting at her emotions with a tissue.
Unfortunately, the curvy roads of communication between my head and heart have a way of slowing down my verbal response time. And it’s not uncommon for me to end up so lost that I can’t even finish my sentence subjects with the direction of a predicate. So as my wife waits for me to arrive at something resembling a unit of thought, I inwardly process through the detours and road blocks.
But realizing she’s waiting there with dried tears, I tried to keep her on hold a little longer by sending her a generic ringtone. “Yes, it was really good,” I chimed with husbandly affirmation.
But then came an awkward silence. Something wasn’t right. She was hoping for a bit more passion. And she told me so. And so I assumed a defensive posture, thereby losing my ability for any coherent explanation.
But here’s some of the rub which caused my itch: In life, we’re forced to learn to swim in different tide pools, each with its own set of prescribed, environmental expectations. Regardless of where the tide places us, we have to face the realities of boundaries and limitations, and we must master them in order to survive.
When I was a boy, my worship pool consisted of an organ, a baby grand piano, and a red hymnal. The music was beautiful in our church, though I quickly learned that we did our best swimming when we used formalized strokes and concentrated breathing.
Even a young boy could distinguish the gold-medalist from the amateur.
And when that boy grows up into a man who doesn’t know how to sing or carry a tune, he believes, in his head, that he doesn’t belong on the team. And in his heart, he feels as if he can’t participate.
So he watches and carefully studies how worship happens on stage, though he’s told the real worship ought to happen where he’s standing. And so unable to get off the field, he finds a way to sit down in the grass as a spectator — right in the middle of the worship-field.
Of course, he invests in a good seat cushion because he knows he’ll be sitting here for life. And maybe some comfortable shoes, too, because he will be asked to stand from time to time.
And now back to the gospel concert. Just as the usher turned to take my wife and I to our seats, he paused to ask if we would like to sit in the front row behind the orchestra pit. This empty row had been left for general admission. “Most people don’t realize it,” he explained. But the professional spectator inside me sees the world differently. Others, like myself, would know better than to sit too close to worship. After all, we might get hit by something.
At one point during the show, a worship pastor from Indianapolis joined the large choir on stage. It had been a long and difficult day for him, he confessed. His plane had been delayed, several times, and he nearly missed the big show. But once his voice arrived in the theater, it poured out with the sweetness and sharpness of pomegranate juice.
One of the qualities which most attracts me to gospel music is the strength of the human voice. Even when arms and legs are shackled in chains, a beautiful voice can still emerge as it chooses to proclaim freedom, even if that elusive truth remains unseen or unfelt. This pastor wanted to remind us that we must claim and celebrate the goodness of God’s promises, even on an empty and harsh wilderness day.
There is something beautiful and mysterious about the man who, though he may be bound in the slavery of his circumstances, opens his mouth and defiantly casts out an echoing “Hallelujah!” far out into the dust.
As the pastor sang, I’m sure his eyes could see through the stage lights and see others like myself, whose feet were stuck to the floor, even if their hands were clapping. My heart quickened, though, when he finished a song and walked closer to the front of the stage. He stood directly in front of me and looked straight into my eyes. Yep. It looked as though I might get hit by something after all.
God wants more from you, he told the crowd. You have more to give.
And so then I cast out my “Hallelujah!” a little further and felt it splash into something larger than a tidal pool.
None of us are strong enough to unstick ourselves from whatever flypaper is holding us down in life. We all find ourselves caught up in something. For me, it may mean that I am stuck with dispositions which don’t allow me to worship in the same way as the person standing beside me. God will often plant me in frustrating places like this to teach me that I am in desperate need for a new song in my heart — and that He alone can place it there.
A new song is not something I can drum up through my own efforts. And I can’t even receive it by hitching a ride with the worship band.
I guess it’s just hard to celebrate the new song when I can’t carry the tune. But I still hear God telling me that, before He can place anything new inside my heart, He demands the complete possession of it.
Indeed, worship can take place in any number of tide pools. But only as we make room for the Holy Spirit can we experience the deeper worship which takes place when the tide faithfully returns and our own sticky and confining limitations are washed away in the ocean of His love. Yes, the highest form of worship requires our complete surrender in order to make room for a more complete response to our Maker.
I do not want to take anything away from those around me in the sanctuary whose worship takes a different form from my own. No matter where we’ve been placed in life, we’re all being freed of something, and — with the Holy Spirit’s help — we all have something more we long to give Him.