Music is a sacrament.~ Bono
For the Christian, pleasure is innocent until proven guilty. ~ Tim Keller
All of us at various times in our lives come to a place where we notice something almost sacramental, rich, and holy about the experience of listening to music of Beethoven or Mozart. Or listening to Johnny Cash sing Amazing Grace.
There is something loaded and layered with meaning to take a long walk along the gentle lapping shoreline of the Puget Sound. Something transcendent about watching a bee pull nectar from an alpine-forget-me-not at fourteen thousand feet above sea level. There is something holy about watching a sunrise or the smell of a baby’s hair. There is something packed full of beauty and goodness about the innocent laugh of a toddler. Or the wise gentle smile of a grandparent.
What do we do with these instincts that this material reality is so beautiful, good and holy? Is it merely neurons firing and synapses reacting in our brains or is there more going on?
Live in God’s World Playfully
Have you noticed that Christians are some of the saddest, dourest, meanest people on the planet? And yet one of the salient marks of what Scriptures say are supposed to set us apart from people with God is that we are joyful people.
God made this world and even in its groaning and marred state we are to be enjoying the creative world God has placed us in.
Will we actually slow down enough to see the individual petals of a flower, hear the distinct tone of a song bird, taste the texture of a pan-seared steak, or have a leisurely conversation with an old friend? Will we slow down enough to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch this good earth? How will we ponder and praise the moments of beauty God offers us this week?
Live in God’s World Gratefully
That is one of the great benefits of gathering weekly to worship. When we gather to sing, pray, laugh, study, hear, and love as a gathering of the faithful we bring into focus all of the inarticulate praise of the cosmos into an expression to the living God. Worship is practice in gratitude.
This is why it is so important that we determine to be present in a place of worship even when we don’t feel like it. Without the weekly discipline it is so easy to fall into a default mode of working on the next item on your “to do list” that we fail to realize we have so much life and grace for which to be thankful.
In worship we are to slow down long enough to be stunned by the beauty of God and the grace of Jesus and—to say thank you as a people.
Live in God’s World Seriously
Believing that this world is both beautiful and broken at the same time. God loves this world so stubbornly that He enters it in Jesus to restore it and heal it. And each of our lives are supposed to be signposts to that blessed hope. And that means we get serious about serving the world that God loves.
Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’ For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again. ~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,
When you work in your yard, when you speak with the clerk at the store you frequent, when you teach a child to read, when you build a house, when you pump gas, when you provide employment for others, when you process transactions at a bank, when you write a story, when you listen to a friend, when you play with a child, when you cook a meal…it is all spiritual.
One of the fascinating restoration projects going on in the world today is happening in the Middle East. The church of Hagia Sophia (literally “Holy Wisdom”) built in Constantinople, now Istanbul, was first dedicated in 360 by Emperor Constantius, son of the city’s founder, Emperor Constantine. To this day it boasts the largest unsupported dome structure in the world. It is beautiful, breath-taking and transcendent. And yet, with all of its grandeur, it is in disrepair.
In the 15th century sultan Mehmed ravaged the city and converted it into a mosque, which it remained until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century. Plastering over the beauty of the mosaics with the ugly of plain plaster. But in the 1930s the Hagia Sophia was officially commissioned as a museum and is no longer controlled by a religious entity. Since that time, slowly—week-by-week and month-by-month and year-by-year—the ancient beauty of that place is being restored. The plain plaster is carefully and gently chipped and peeled away so that the original beauty underneath might reemerge once again.
What a wonderful picture of what God is doing in this world through the apprentices of Jesus and what the maker of Heaven and Earth is doing with His creation. He is repairing and restoring a ruined cathedral through the person and work of Jesus and He intends—no, insists—that it be beautiful once again.
So, dear friends and fellow pilgrims, may you know the maker of Heaven and Earth and learn to live well in His good world.
Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
Both young men and maidens;
Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord. Psalm 148:11
I wish we could sit and smoke a cigar and visit more about this one. (I have cc’d two of my best friends wishing for them on the porch also)
Love this piece, Joe! We are called to daily offer ourselves, or “live in God’s world,” as living sacrifices, in order to recognize God’s Kingdom activity and partner with him in the work of restoration. We get to do this! All of us! Romans 12:1 straight up calls this our spiritual act of worship! More than an early morning 5-minute prayer time, or a once-a-week “worship service” on Sunday morning, this is an ongoing, continual way of being. And it best happens when we recognize God’s presence in every little thing that we do. This is the “sacrament of the present moment,” is it not?
Very nice. Very important words.
You deserve a tip of the hat for noting that Agia Sophia means Holy Wisdom. I have seen many refer to it as “St. Sophia.” I even once saw someone call it divine wisdom. But it is indeed the Church of Holy Wisdom, named after Jesus Christ, the Logos, not infrequently referred to as Wisdom in Orthodoxy.