Altar registration is now closed. Please register at the door upon your arrival. See you then!
Aaron & Andy at YouthFront did a Studio 47 (YouthFront's Podcast) interview with Ian Cron, our keynote speaker at the Altar this year. It's a GREAT interview and gives a lot of insight into his book, Chasing Francis, and what he'll be sharing with us at the Altar.
You can download it here, or subscribe to it on iTunes (just search for YouthFront).
Selah - Reclaiming stillness in our expression of faith.
By Jeff Johnson
Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Any reader of the Psalter will note a mysterious word that seems to randomly pop up between its verses from time to time. The word Selah is indeed a mystery to Biblical scholars as well. Most agree that it was likely a musical term that signified a rest or pause within the text.
A number of years ago two friends and myself were discussing the idea of creating a worship service at our local Baptist affiliated church that would emulate the contemplative models of worship such as Taizé. Having been to Taizé in the Bourgogne region of France as well as participating in several stateside Taizé service transplants, we each longed for a similar kind of expression of worship. An expression, being Protestant and artists by vocation, which incorporated a love for the proclamation of God’s word and our creative sensibilities with prayer spoken and unspoken. Thus, the Selah Service was born replete with the choruses of Taizé as well as my own original music combined with Biblical readings often focusing on the Psalms as well as such Christian traditions as the Celtic church. The service was enhanced with candlelight and various artistic symbols and renderings that were either displayed or projected on the walls and ceiling of the geodesic dome in which the church gathered.
Over the years, this monthly “experiment” turned into a more serious vocation for me leading Selah services and working with churches to help them develop their own expression of contemplative worship. One of the more memorable ones was a modified Selah for 8,000 people which took place in a large entertainment center for a national youth conference. One might think that the positive response we received was due to the beautiful Celtic music and choruses that were performed or the inspiring projections of sacred images that accompanied the service. Yet for many, it was the four minutes of silent prayer in the middle of the service that was to be the most profound part of the experience. That’s right, four minutes of uninterrupted, absolute silence with the only sound being the air moving through the center’s air ducts. Many people I spoke with afterwards had never attended a worship service that gave such a priority to silent prayer, let alone being quiet with 8,000 other believers in Christ.
Our regular Selah service, like the Taizé model, normally includes ten minutes of silent prayer. It is just one of many examples of how Christian churches and groups are reclaiming the stillness in their expression of faith. To borrow a new phrase, “Quiet is the new loud.” Embracing more contemplation in our worship offers some positive contributions for churches struggling with just what worship is to be.
Indeed, the very word worship is used so often to describe so many different things in the Christian subculture that I believe it has completely lost it’s salt. Perhaps the clarity of thought and content such as Psalm 46 will help get us back to a clearer understanding of what it is to worship.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Notice here that first and foremost, there is a “remembering” of who God is - the Creator and giver of all life. For all of the writers of the Psalms, worship is about remembering. It is remembering who God is and, equally important, who we are as His created beings. David, in Psalm 103, succinctly portrays this notion when he writes:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more. (vs. 15-16)
He then follows this sobering statement with these contrasting words of hope rooted in God’s eternal nature:
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all. (vs. 17-19):
It is this remembering that gives us the hope that God can be trusted to watch over every detail of our existence. Our only logical response to this wonderful reality is to bow before Him in worship and gratitude. This way of blessing God might be expressed by raising “a loud shout to the rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1) or it may equally and most profoundly be expressed in just being still before Him…
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
At what point in the ongoing discussion about prayer and worship did we decide that contemplation and meditation were bad words? It arises from a legitimate concern over the New Age movement defining these terms as techniques that take oneself outside the realm of the mind into a what is presupposed as a more potent and yet completely subjective understanding of truth.
In the Psalms we find an alternative model of seeking the truth through a different kind of contemplation and meditation than that offered by New Age philosophy. Its practice begins in our God-given minds as we humbly come before Him remembering His past works and faithfulness in our lives. From the reassurance derived from this process of believing and God’s choosing to be merciful, we experience what it means to have faith and hope.
As I think of this, I am reminded again of the weary and faith-drained Elijah when he found himself at his wits end hiding from Jezebel on Mount Horeb (I Kings 19). Significantly, it was not in the strong wind or earthquake or fire that God revealed Himself, but rather it was in the thin silence that the prophet finally heard God’s reassuring voice.
In conclusion, what better context could there be in which to pray and wait upon the Lord than in the community of other believers in prayer and stillness? And we might also consider, as we open our church doors to those outside the faith, what an impact this oasis of quiet might have, by God’s willing spirit, on hearts and minds battered and overwhelmed by the din of our modern culture which forever seeks to quell that still small voice.
One of my favorite sections of Chasing Francis is when the main character, Chase, is in conversation with his musician friend Carla and a Franciscan priest named Kenny. They are discussing the importance of the arts in faith--even for those who wouldn't consider themselves "artistic."
"'Francis would say that your life should become a poem, a living work of art,' Kenny said. 'The gift artists bring to the church may be no greater than anyone else's--' he looked directly at Carla--'but we need them desperately.'"
After this conversation, Chase journals about an experience he had at a U2 concert shortly after 9/11.
...At that moment the presence of God descended on that room in a way I will never forget. There we were, twenty-five thousand people standing, weeping, and singing with the band. It suddenly became a worship service; we were pushing against the darkness together. I walked out dazed, asking myself, 'What on earth just happened?' Of course, it was the music. For a brief moment, the veil between this world and the world to come had been made thin by melody and lyric. If only for a brief few minutes, we were all believers.......
.....Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy."
What are your thoughts? This blog is meant to be a place of conversation leading to the Altar, so please--enlighten us! Leave a comment about your experience with the arts in faith and worship.
Within our focus on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, there are heaps of different topics that will be up for discussion at the Altar. We'll discuss following Christ in everything from engaging with nature, to the arts, to participating in social justice both locally and globally, to living a life of simplicity and contemplation and much more. What topics, whether one of these or something totally random, are YOU interested in? What would you like to go to a small group discussion about? Please leave a comment and let us know!
I found some great reviews of Chasing Francis, the book written by our Altar speaker, Ian Cron. Check them out, then check out Chasing Francis!
Reviews from International Arts Movement:
Here's what people are saying about Chasing Francis:
guiding us to wrestle deeply with a crisis of faith experience and by
re-introducing us to a giant of faith, Ian Cron paves for us a path of
grace, humility, and ultimate joy even through our 'ground zero'
darkness. This is a life-changing work. I now find myself 'chasing
Francis' in my life as well as in my art.”
-- Makoto Fujimura, artist and writer, New York City
Francis, Ian Cron's first book, introduces us to a bright new writer
with a rare combination of strong writing talent, storyteller's art,
and profound yet practical spiritual insight. He interweaves a
fictional contemporary narrative with the life of St. Francis, and
creates a unique and meaningful contribution to the emerging
conversation about faith and life in today's world. Expect good things
from this gifted writer!"
-- Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian
Cron weds historical facts with his creative imagination to give us a
twentieth century feel for a saint who, more than anyone since New
Testament days, lived out Radical Christianity."
-- Tony Campolo, PhD, professor emeritus, Eastern University
moribund literary form of didactic fiction comes roaring to life in
this novel. Cron's genius lies in linking the timeless charism of
Francis to issues confronting the contemporary church. And he pulls it
off in compelling fashion."
-- Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child
read this book marking something on almost every other page. I would
say my friend, Cron, has done just about the best job I've seen of
explaining the usefulness of a so-called postmodern view of Christian
faith. I'd like to be part of a church that his hero ends up proposing."
-- Gordon MacDonald, author, pastor and speaker (on the Leadership Journal web page)
seems the world never gets tired of seeking out, writing about,
discovering, and falling in love with Francis of Assisi. Ian Cron does
it again, but with real insight, imagination, and courage. Join in the
-- Friar Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Francis is not a history or spirituality book, though it contains
elements of both. It is a novel that touches a little of something in
the inner troubles of most of us who try to follow Jesus faithfully in
a modern western environment. Delightful!"
-- John Michael Talbot, founder, spiritual father and general minister, The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage
Altar registration is officially open on the YouthFront website. Have a look around and sign up! All the pricing and details are there as well.
Now that registration is up and running, the blog will be too! Soon we'll hear from Ian and Jeff about some great topics to think about before the Altar. In the meantime, take a minute to meditate on this prayer written by St. Francis, and feel free to leave a comment if you have any insights.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.