How the Liberating Ritual of Showering Impacts General Conference Worship

Laura Jaquith Bartlett, Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference 

wellsprings_creatingspirit

I do my best creative thinking in the shower. That may be TMI (Too Much Information) for an essay to be shared with clergywomen around the world, most of whom I don’t know personally. But stay with me here; there’s a reason I’m choosing to start by baring my soul (so to speak), and I suspect that I’m not alone.

Besides the fact that clean, hot water is both soothing and restorative (and always prompts me to a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of this luxury), the simple, repetitive tasks of scrubbing my toes and shampooing my hair require virtually no brain cells. And since there’s nothing inside the shower stall to distract my thinking, my mind is set free to plumb the depth and breadth of my richly creative imagination.

That’s not a boast. I firmly believe that my imagination is not any more or less creative than anyone else’s. I also firmly believe that I am created in God’s own image—just like everyone else. So the God who came up with giraffes and sunsets and volcanoes and shooting stars and banana slugs is the same God who came up with human beings; that divine creative DNA is embedded in every cell of our bodies, and all it takes is a little time in the boring confines of a shower cubical to liberate it.

Not that we all have the same divine DNA, of course, and that’s part of the beauty of the creative spirit. To paraphrase Paul: to one is given the gift of singing, to another speech, to another dance, and to yet another the ability to proclaim the word through visual art. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit (see 1 Cor 12:11). This means that when we come together as the body of Christ, we are constituted with amazingly diverse pieces of divine DNA, knit into a whole by the creative Spirit of the One who is creating still.

This has significant implications for those who design worship. First, as music and worship director for General Conference 2016, I know that the best way to maximize the potential of all that diverse DNA is to assemble a team. The seven of us on the General Conference worship design team include big-picture dreamers and fine-tooth-comb detailers. We are musicians and spreadsheet gurus, wordsmiths and visual artists, talkers and listeners. We debate with passion and hold one another tenderly in prayer. And no matter how much shower time I get, the creative ideas we generate as a team are always, always, always better, richer, and more complete than what I could come up with on my own.

Second, if we are going to be true to the claim that we gather as the body of Christ when we worship, then we need to reflect the diversity of the entire body. At General Conference, this is quite easy when it comes to the gathered congregation; the structure of General Conference itself mandates that representatives of the worldwide denomination are present. But that’s just the beginning. We must design worship that reflects the rich variety of the global church—not because General Conference provides a huge spotlight so, of course, we want the worship to be excellent; not because people of differing backgrounds bring a variety of traditions and styles; and not even because the quality of our worship life together just might impact the quality of our work at General Conference. Worship must be creative because otherwise our liturgy is simply not true to God’s own nature as Creator. As Tom Driver says, “To be boring is to bear false witness.”[1]

Our worship must include the driving beat of drums as well as the contemplative chants of Taizé—because our creative God gave us the gift of myriad styles of music. We must see the Word expressed in images and textures and colors as well as hear the Word preached with poetry and passion—because our creative God gave us eyes and ears. We must be given the opportunity to be still and know God’s presence as well as to experience the joy of clapping, tapping, and lifting our arms in exuberant praise—because our creative God gave us bodies that comprehend the wonder of Incarnate Love only when we bring our whole selves to worship.

Indeed, we are incarnational beings who cannot be completely divorced from our bodies, whether it’s in the shower or in worship. When we sing, paint, laugh, dance, weave, clap, splash, eat, and drink together in Christ’s name, we bring the gifts of God’s own creation into a new creation: a transformed community. Hallelujah!

 



[1] Tom F. Driver, The Magic of Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites That Transform Our Lives and Our Communities (New York, HarperCollins, 1991), 212.

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