Last night the Worship Committee reflected on the following quote by Janet R. Walton:
“We come together as worshipping communities, not because we are perfect but precisely because we are not. So, week after week, we gather to draw the holy into life. We expect to hear, to taste, to see, to touch, to remember, and to imagine God in our lives.”
We as a committee talked about some of the sights, sounds, moments of touch, smells, and tastes that we associate with worship, church and scripture. We wondered: Do we really “expect to hear, to taste, to see, to touch, to remember, and to imagine God in our lives?” Do we really “gather to draw the holy into life?” What does that even mean?
For the next couple of months these are the questions we will consider during worship. And by way of preparing for this “Sensing God” series, I’ve been reading a book with that title by Roger Ferlo. Ferlo reminds us that early congregations of believers lived in “a deeply sensuous world, one in which the presence of God was experienced by means of all the senses working together–the taste of bread and wine, the smell of incense, the touch of the laying on of hands in prayer.” He goes on to suggest that Scripture would have been incomprehensible outside these bodily sensations of hearing, touching, tasting, seeing and yes, even smelling.
Unfortunately, as he argues, we in the west have too often treated scripture as an information manual, as our source for facts and rules. As a result, we often miss the sense of it all. In other words, we are impoverished if and when we don’t develop regard for the cross- sensory interplay when reading and understanding scripture.
And so as we prepare to gather on Sunday, I’ll leave you with these thoughts printed on the back of Ferlo’s book:
Think of all the senses you use when you pick up a Bible. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you touch? Reading scripture attentively is more than a matter of sight. Most of us have been taught to think about God in visual terms, yet the very subject matter of scripture–our relationship with the fullness of God–makes irresistible demands upon all of our senses if we are to begin to understand anything about God…Just as a printed recipe cannot substitute for a mouth-watering feast, so the Bible must be brought to life through the senses. Its stories must be seen, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted. Only then…can we truly begin to encounter in our lives the Word of God to us in scripture.
Feel free to comment on the sights, sounds, moments of touch, smells, and tastes that you associate with worship. (Rosi claims that each church has a distinct smell and that she could be blindfolded and still know which church she was in, just by the smells. Someday I might just have to test her on that claim.)