Last Friday night, Vintage hosted its latest Vespers service. Vespers is a monthly gathering at Vintage, curated and led by the wonderfully creative Jonathan Perrodin. The purpose is Vespers is to provide fresh and artistic experiences that aid our spiritual development and life with God. Vespers services sometimes are liturgical, sometimes visual, sometimes participatory, sometimes observational, always memorable.
No two Vespers services are alike.
But this last one was more different than others.
This Vespers featured a gathering led by the Third Stone Sun Celebrants, a group devoted to the mythology of Cisneros and the energy and peace of being rooted in the sun and stone.
The room was dark. The Celebrants were shrouded. The liturgy was difficult to understand and follow. The music was haunting. The rituals were bizarre.
And I felt a range of reactions from fear to amusement, from being captivated to being bored.
But none of it was real.
The Celebrants were not some traveling group with a well-developed tradition. They were my friends who cooked up this idea as they discussed how to push the limits.
But what was certainly real was the feeling of being an outsider in a gathering.
Here are some of the observations I made:
When I don’t know the story and I don’t understand the symbols, all I am left with is whether or not I like the music.
I had a hard time following the Celebrants’ liturgy. I hadn’t heard the stories before, and they were told in a way that didn’t give me much chance to process them. The symbols were strange and unfamiliar to me. All that was left was the music. I think that many people sit in church services week in and week out feeling something similar. At church, it is so easy to talk in jargon and code. It makes me wonder how many people feel lost. I wonder if the way we worship only gives people music to connect with. And maybe that is why people are so passionate about having musical styles they prefer in worship. If we worshipped better, maybe the "worship wars" over music would end.
Sometimes our rituals can appear very strange.
Near the end of the Celebrants’ service, they performed a ritual in which they placed a doll head in a bowl of milk, sprinkled the milk on stones, and then drank the milk. Yeah, it was that strange. It got me thinking about our Christians rituals and how strange they may appear to an outsider. We are so familiar with communion, for instance, that we fail to apprehend the strange power of Jesus’ words, “This is my body for you. Take and eat it. ... This is my blood for you. Take and drink it.” I am not suggesting that we abandon strange rituals, just that we recognize that they may be strange. And maybe we ought to mix-up how we practice them so that new insights and meanings can be found in the unfamiliarity of newness.
Throughout the Celebrants' service, I kept wondering what I was going to be asked to do. Was I going to have to drink the baby-head-milk? Was I going to have to stand or say something or do something I wasn't comfortable doing? Vanessa and I talked about this a lot after the service. We decided that to fully invest in a service, to fully let yourself go, you have got to trust the people leading the service. Trust takes time to develop. And it requires relationships to be built. If worship leaders simply expect people to participate without first building trust, they run the risk of alienating the very worshippers they are trying to lead.
So does explanation.
I didn't leave this Vespers service knowing much more about the Third Stone Celebrants and their beliefs than I knew before the service. There was no explanation, no teaching. I had to connect the dots myself, and I had a hard time doing it. Certainly, preaching isn't the end all and be all of church worship gatherings. But it is important. The story of the gospel needs to be told clearly and compellingly. Didactic teaching isn't the point of Christian worship, but we can't leave people scratching their heads either.
I know that people had wide and varied reactions to this Vespers service ... I heard many of them while I drank a PBR in the moments following its conclusion. I'm curious for those of you that we were there, what did you learn?