I’ve been tired during church lately.
If you’re someone attempting to deconstruct or decolonize your faith like I am, you might feel it, too.
As a Potawatomi woman, I am suddenly going over every word of every song, every word of every sermon, asking if those words are inclusive of my own culture within the views of the American church.
And so we show up at church, asking all the questions, making all the critiques we can, because these things matter.
And we end up leaving exhausted because the church has not yet understood that Jesus really was a poor, brown carpenter and still has something to say to us today. I’m exhausted that I don’t yet understand that in my own skin.
And we end up leaving exhausted because we have to hold our own culture’s truths and tensions with the gospel, and also hold all these cultural, racial, belief-based tensions with one another.
As a worship leader, I pay attention to the room during worship.
I listen to the voices in unison.
I wonder where people are coming from when they sing words like, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”
And as I am analyzing these things and trying to worship through my own experiences, I come back to this idea of nakedness.
Theresa ofAvila says it like this:
You find God in yourself and yourself in God.
To know the true mirror image of God is to know ourselves fully, as we are fully known.
And that means that while we stay tethered to and learn from and engage with our cultural lenses, we also zoom into our souls, into that naked place, to that deepest part of who we are to embrace Mystery, without analyzing any of it.
We embrace Mystery without analyzing any of it.
This means that we even have to allow ourselves to step out of the mindset that worship should look, feel and seem a certain way.
To embrace Mystery is to recognize that worship is something fully beyond us that we step into and participate in, and not just in a church building full of people.
One of the most worshipful experiences I had recently was while I was staying at an AirBNB in the Blue Ridge mountains. I took an early evening walk, mittens on and a cup of coffee in my hand. As I turned the corner, I watched a family of deer run across the street and up into the woods on the other side. Before they disappeared, one of them stopped, turned around, and stared at me for a few seconds.
Sometimes worship happens as a rootedness that we do not expect or even think we deserve.
The mirror image of myself in that deer was nothing but worship, a moment to recognize my own sense of belonging in this world. In the space, beyond my culture, beyond the fact that I am a Potawatomi woman, that I am a mother and wife and worship leader and writer and friend, I was simply one soul looking at the soul of another creature.
We were simply acknowledging one another, and in that, acknowledging Mystery, without analyzing any of it.
So we erase the lines that make rules to tell us when and how to worship. We expand our thinking outside the walls of the church and realize that “occasionally it is not the open air or the church that we desire, but both” (John Philip Newell).
And this is difficult when you’re on church staff, when you’re trying to figure out how to run a church with various cultures, to honor diversity, to honor the life of Jesus. I get that. But leading others in worship means we lead them out of themselves, and we also lead them out of the mindset that worship must look the way the American church thinks it should look.
And soon we find that deconstructing our worship patterns is actually a return back to that nakedness, to that mirror image between us and God, between us and the world, between my own culture and yours.
And then we find that worship has done its work, because the glory of God happens when this created world is fully alive to beauty, to love, to all of those things that we have such a hard time finding because we are so constantly trying to analyze the questions and critiques as they come to us every week in church.
Because of and despite our questions and critiques, the Mystery is still there, still engaging, still asking us to look and respond, to be present with every aspect of ourselves, to the honor and glory of God.