Holding A Silence

Dearest darlings,

Pacing is EVERYTHING in worship.
Remember to think, pray, feel and rehearse your way through your liturgy before you get up there, and I don’t mean just to the pulpit. I mean beginning with your entrance into the sanctuary. I mean the way you take the space before the prayers of the people. I mean your stance, your posture, your groundedness as you BEGIN to speak, not just as you speak.

Content is important, yes, but PRESENCE is more so in these times.
What you are saying about pain, brokenness, violence, grace, loss, sin, gun control, death, destruction, toxic masculinity, the seemingly pointless desire for carnage — yea, it’s helpful. The gesture of one human being who is (supposedly, hopefully) grounded in faith and spiritual practice speaking to the agony of the world is powerful, and your people appreciate it. They wouldn’t want to be the ones having to do what you (we) do week after week.
So yes, definitely craft your sermons and prayers with great care.

But don’t kid yourself that the words are what matter most.
They might.
But if you deliver them with no breath support, no attention to the way you embody what you are saying the message will be lost, or at least greatly diminished.

Silence in the liturgy is NOT just what happens when you shut your pie hole. It is a space that you actually hold for the worshiping community just as a musician holds an attentive space between the notes that are called “rests.” Watch a symphony orchestra conductor sometime. She does not chill out between notes or movements of the piece. Her body is intensely engaged, her baton aloft even and perhaps especially in the rests.
And you must be that way, too. Do not ever drop the energy during the worship service.
Even if you are seated through an anthem or holding a long silence for prayer, you are the High Priest, you are the Hierophant who conducts the flow of energy between the people and the holy in that hour. Never forget that. If people are lighting candles, you are holding your body and attention in such a way as to support their intentions. You are not chilling in your chair and sitting with casually crossed legs or chatting with the organist.

Be present for all of it, even when you’re not the center of attention. From the moment you step out to begin the service until the moment you pronounce the final benediction, you are intensely, beautifully present with full energy engaged.

Rehearsing For Excellence: Theatre and Worship

Darling pigeons,
An unusual Saturday for me. Instead of putting finishing touches on a Sunday morning worship service, I am entirely focused on the temple of theatre and being part of a very fine production of “Cabaret.” Yes, it’s gratifying to earn a standing ovation with an amazing cast. Yes, it’s personally rewarding to walk the emotional path of a memorable character who has wonderful scenes and songs, and it is emotionally satisfying to tell the story along with talented performers while supported by stellar design artists, tech crew and an orchestra that makes me wish I could be in the show and just listen to them play all night with my eyes closed. My efforts feel richly rewarded.

The intimacy of the theatre is so much like the intimacy of church. You know what I’m talking about: gathering in a space in order to be transformed by words and music and silence that invite in the Holy – even when the Holy brings us to uncomfortable or painful recognition about the human condition and our brokenness.

“Cabaret” is exactly that. It was most gratifying of all, when I was talking to someone who saw the show and she asked me if it was a difficult show for me since I am of Jewish heritage. I told her that it is — that I think of my many extended family members who went to the gas chambers and feel in strange communion with them, almost apologizing in my heart to them, asking “Is it okay that we are telling your story with singing and dancing and entertainment?” My best friend saw the show last night and she texted me, “That was devastating.” And then the friend who had asked me if it was a hard show for me said much the same thing (her daughter is our star, Sally Bowles). She said that she felt it was a powerful reminder of that time in history that is in danger of being forgotten, and should be produced often for that reason.

Theatre and church: reminding us of that which is danger of being forgotten.

What I wanted to talk to you about more than anything, though, is the beauty of the craft of theatre and how it applies to ministry.

We rehearse and rehearse so we know what we are doing with our voices, bodies, faces and emotions while we enact the “sacred scripture” (in this case, a book by Joe Masterhoff based on source material by Christopher Isherwood, and put to music by John Kander and Fred Ebb). We do not leave to chance where we will wind up on the space of the stage, just as those who lead worship should know where they are going, and with what intention, when they move from liturgical element to element.

We warm up, and take time to carefully dress, prepare our mics, do a sound check, and make-up our faces. No responsible performer would dream of arriving at the theatre late and skipping any of these important steps. We do it not only to assure our own best personal performance but out of respect for the other artists who need us to be prepared, as grounded as possible, and totally ready to go on at curtain. It is about trust. We look out for each other and we help each other get ready.

[To be continued…]