Praise and Worship: An Embodied Ritual In A Sacred Space
Posted on September 20, 2022
FR. GEORGE ADIMIKE
Though a religion of the Word, Christianity involves bodies and biographies and lives out its newness by the regard it accords to the body. Besides the general belief in the immortality of souls, Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. This faith finds warrant in the Incarnation of the Eternal Word and orientation in his resurrection. By Christ’s taking on flesh and resurrection, the material world was not only redeemed but became an instrument of salvation. As a matter of course, Christian worship involves a bodily act, such that our confession of faith in the resurrection of the body entails that our eternal self is an embodied one. Through songs, which are full-bodied affective actions, the faithful explore and express their divine worship. By its character, music spells sonic rituals in worship, mediates encounters with God, and thus informs the spirituality of many Christians. These spirit-filled songs are embodied affective means through which worshippers insert themselves within the sphere of the divine presence as they reach toward an encounter and intimacy with God.
Indeed, the heightened deployment of the affective part of the human person (the heart) in prayer, especially in praise and worship, invites a reflection on worship as a bodily act. Some worshippers are turned on in an emotional atmosphere. For that, there is a growing recognition that the right passion (orthopathos) complements the right doctrine (orthodoxy) and the right practice (orthopraxis). A good Christian life integrates the right feeling, faith, and practice for a holistic response. In other words, spirit-filled songs lead many of the faithful to the great beyond in their encounter with God. Through the mediation of these acts, the presence of God rules consciences and consciousnesses. Christ, who is present when the Church prays and sings, brings our worship to a new level of depth and fulfils it. God, the most beneficent, is enthroned on the praises of His peoples (cf. Psalm 22:3), which brings about an appreciation of God’s presence and glory.
In some Pentecostal/charismatic traditions, the experience of God’s presence is appreciated as musical transubstantiation akin to Catholic Eucharistic transubstantiation. In their exaggerated position, they practically hold that these songs bring about musical transubstantiation in which the songs transform the faithful and bring about the real presence of God in the assembly. Yet the Lord dwells in the praise of His people simply because He dwells in their hearts. Praise makes the hearts of men entirely open for the Spirit. It collapses all the material and human defences and unites the spheres of men with the sphere of God. The heart’s stirrings that impact one and condition the intellect, its functions, manifestations, and experiences bring about a new disposition in that sacred space of worship. As such, the heart-attitude of praise leads to the transformation of mortal men into divinised persons. In this sacred space of worship, men encounter God in an intimate way that leads to a sustained exodus of discipleship. In such an arena of praise, the effect of the Holy Ghost’s power is heightened because of the presence of the willing and ready residences. In praise events and through the instrumentality of praise, God transforms the praise agents by letting in fire since they, having emptied themselves of the self, are open to being filled.
From the transformation that disposes of the agents, they become ready instruments of worship, encounter, divine embrace, and in-personification, and are worthy of the hypostatic communion by the Spirit to be the body of Christ, the Church. In such encounters of the divine and the human, miracles, breakthroughs, and prodigies tell the story. In short, praise creates an atmosphere for miracles. It is incontrovertible that in praise and worship, the walls of Jericho fell, the Israelites sang themselves through the deserts, Paul and Silas were unbounded and liberated together with the other prisoners, Zachariah expressed his hope, and Mary affirmed God’s greatness and graciousness.
Praise events do much more than facilitate worship; they quasi-formally cause the experience of the divine presence. While many Christians appreciate the value of praise in worship or the general impact of music on the Christian faith, they are oblivious to their sacramental quality. The understanding that recognizable actions and objects effect a divine presence and encounter is central to all sacramental reality. To possess sacramental quality, an action, object, gesture, or sign has to contain the reality it signifies. They are those actions or objects that make God present in the midst of the faith or worshipping community. This is noted in the necessary caveat and appreciation that we cannot manipulate the divine presence; instead, in obedience to God, we maintain petitionary and epicletic postures in humility and adoration to receive it as a gift. Hence, to make present the divine presence, sacramental worship prioritises the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, following the Pythagorean tradition in understanding sacramentality, the Pentecostals accentuate the sacramental quality of the spirit-filled song. Through that, they offer doxology to God, open themselves to him (union) and one another in the faith communion (community), access God’s forgiveness, give thanks, surrender to him and get inspired. In a word, stunning and glorious symphony transports the faithful from mortal men to faith-filled spiritual men by breaking them, leading them from the ecstasy of inspired worshippers to transformed disciples on an exodus to fullness in God. Spirited songs lead the faithful to the great beyond in their encounter with God. They make God present in their midst, mindful that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).
*Fr George Adimike*