Recently, I have been thinking a bit about how our self understanding of our worship experiences over the course of our life shape our current experience with worship. Have you ever wondered about that?
When did worship “begin” for you? What traditions, communities and/or individuals nourished (or harmed) your experience of worship? What practices have been especially valuable to you? Have there been distinct seasons or “ups and downs” in your worship history. Where do you see yourself today? These are all important questions to reflect upon.
The story of my worship life revolves around times of solitude and congregational musical worship. I grew up in a Latino Foursquare church. It was in this church that I learned the significance of musical worship. More than half of the service was dedicated to worshipping God through music. In fact, music was so important in this church that all the youth were encouraged to learn an instrument. One night, while playing the drums in a Saturday night service, I told God that he could have complete control over my entire life. The background for this event was that my uncle had just died, my father had just gone to jail, and my mother and I were evicted from our house. Congregational times of musical worship have always been important for me. In fact, I am at the church I currently attend in part because of musical worship. Back in 2006 I was invited to the high school group at a local non-denominational church. They were having a “worship” night and I vividly remember having a quasi-mystical experience during the service. I knew it was the right place for me.
Besides the significance of congregational musical worship, times of solitude have been very important for me as well. From the early years of college up until now I have made it a regular practice to spend time alone with God in nature. Sometimes I would do this by hiking and other times I would visit local spiritual retreat centers. My solitude with God reached a high point in my first year of college. I would regularly skip class to go pray. I would go out into the mountains or I would close the door of my room and pray alone for hours on end. I still vividly remember some of those afternoon in the fall when I was praying. Interestingly, it was after this year long period of intense solitude with God that I ended up straying from the Lord for about a year. I am not sure how those two things are connected, but I am sure that in some way they go hand in hand.
As I reflect upon the worship tendencies in my life (i.e. an emphasis on congregational musical worship and solitude) as well as the kind of experiences I have had in the various contexts of worship I notice that they fit quite well with my personality and temperament. By nature I am rather introverted, so, I am very comfortable with times of solitude with God. I am also a very analytical and contemplative type person, so times of self-examination come quite easily. What is more surprising to me is how significant times of congregational worship have been to me. Perhaps these times should not be as surprising because in some church settings congregational worship amounts to “worshipping God by yourself in a room where other people are worshipping God by themselves.” Even in congregational settings, I tend to shut out the rest of the world and just focus in on God. Although I know that everyone’s life story will lead them to resonate with different kinds of worship acts, I have tried to lead the ministries I have served with towards a more contemplative vision of worship. Perhaps this means that I am imposing my own preferences upon others or, hopefully, it means that they get to experience something which is quite rare in our fast-paced culture. I hope to explore and even strengthen the contemplative side of worship in my own life—and in the life of those I serve—while balancing this individualistic aspect of worship with more communal and congregational aspects of worship.