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Becoming contemplative worshipers: attending to our communal heart.

Worship is the living heart of the body of Christ. Gathered on Sunday morning, or maybe Saturday night, around a handful of scriptures and a bit of bread, with a few songs and each other-this is our communal heart. The pulse of worship gives life to every congregation's ministry and witness. Worship is God living for us, the living heart of God. So how can we attend to this heart, not in poetry but practically speaking? What might it mean to take the pulse of worship, of our true selves together, of God? Can we describe a method, a set of communal practices, for hearing and getting in rhythm with God?

The Christian contemplative tradition offers similar wisdom for individual prayers. This is practical wisdom for listening, in the tangled flesh of our human hearts, for God. We may receive it also for the sake of our communities in worship. Because what God does in prayer is what God does in worship is what God does, a contemplative posture and practice may inform us as we worship and plan worship. In other words, we may become contemplative worshipers, discerning more closely God's "small and unassuming" (1) movement within our communal heart.

After briefly describing contemplative prayer, I will explore the relationship of worship and prayer. Then, I will suggest ways the contemplative tradition may guide us-worshipers and worship planners alike.

What makes contemplative prayer contemplative

Contemplative prayer is prayer of stillness, prayer of love. It takes its cue from Psalm 46-"Be still and know that I am God." Stillness, sometimes called solitude, is at the heart of contemplative prayer. It is a stillness or solitude that is wordlessness before God.

In our human relationships, such wordlessness is both common and rare. Lovers looking wordlessly into each other's eyes. A loved one keeping silent vigil beside another's hospital bed. A lull over coffee that speaks in its own special way. We may experience these moments as holy or awkward, strange or natural, comforting or threatening-sometimes all of these at once. Since we almost never seek these experiences with human others, it may never occur to us to seek them with the divine Other. But with God, as with each other, there is a sharing beneath and beyond words. Without conversation we touch the communion always but subtly present.

Needless to say, stillness in prayer is God's gift, elusive even when sought-just as with rare and wordless moments with people. There are no formulas and noguarantees. In other words, what we do when we pray does not make our prayer contemplative. Instead, it is our posture. All prayer can be contemplative as we pray "leaning into solitude." (2)

Wordlessness before God involves ceasing, surrendering, resting in the presence of God who is love. God stills us; we cannot still ourselves. But we can, so to speak, lean into it. Leaning into solitude is an inner posture independent of our outward practice of prayer. It is a spiritual watching and waiting. God's love matters much more than how we pray. So however we pray, we "lean" until God's love catches us and we forget all but Love. One contemplative calls such prayer "loving self-forgetfulness"-not doing but simply being, becoming "being-in-love." (3)

What God does

Worshipers may similarly "lean" in worship and learn from the whole of contemplative wisdom, because what God does in prayer is what God does in worship is what God does. When we both worship and pray, we may distinguish what we humans do and what God does. Always what God does is primary. Such is the witness of the scriptures and of prayers and worshipers alike. Compare both prayers and worshipers to a child feebly reaching for its mother. "Because of his mother's faithfulness, the child of the loving mother soon becomes convinced that his reach is sufficient, and in a way he's right, isn't he? In the same way, all I need to do in order to reach God is to reach for God." (4) So whether we are worshiping or praying "'the principle actor. .. is not us but God. ' (5) By God's grace, we can cooperate with God, but we cannot do what God does. And what God does is what really matters.

What is God doing? God is drawing all creation into living, loving community with God and each other. Always and everywhere, it is that simple. In fact, William Barry calls the kingdom of God, "God's one action." This one thing God does in history, creation, and individual human lives is "creat[ing] an environment where all persons can enter into God's very own community life."(6) In other words, what God does-God's one action-is to draw all creation into living, loving community with God and each other.

Drawing us and all things into God-centered community is none other than what God does in worship. Craig Satterlee echoes Barry's idea of "God's one action." "God's people worshiping in the midst of the world enact and signify God's own mission for the life of the world. Rather than being distinct yet related activities the church engages in, worship and mission are God's single activity of reconciliation."(7) In other words, when we worship, God reveals what God is always doing, and God does it in and through us. In worship, as when God works invisibly in the world, God reconciles. Period. God creates and recreates loving community.

What is more, God does the same in prayer. William Johnston speaks of prayer as God seducing us, leading us to fall in love, so that we become a fountain of God's love for others. (8) So in contemplative prayer, even when we lean into solitude, we in fact lean into community.
  All prayer is social. From the very beginning
  of prayer, we see that even our most intimate
  inner life is inhabited by other people and
  what we have made of what they have shown
  us. When we pray for others, we not only seek
  something for them but we also acknowledge
  our dependency on them. (9)


In other words, there is no such thing as praying alone. Through prayer, God draws us ever deeper into love with God and each other. In worship, in prayer, in the world itself, God does this one, marvelous thing. Because God is one, God unifies what we experience as separate arenas of life or realms of the world through God's "oneing" work.(10) Everywhere and always, living, loving community is simply what God does.

Our bodies, and The Body

Of course, worship and prayer are not exactly the same. Indeed, God's one action finds fuller, richer expression in worship. In worship it, and God's own self, is made flesh in us. For in worship, God literally gathers us into a living, loving community--the body of Christ. "We can eat and pray alone, but we must come together in order to be and experience the body of Christ. That is, our coming together is more than functional or efficient; it is necessary."(11) None of the comforts and assurances of individual prayer can match what we see with our own eyes and feel with our own bodies in communal worship--God deeply and lovingly involved with us and our world. Unlike in prayer, in worship God reveals--through the mystery of the broken, human body gathered around broken bread and poured wine--God's own living self and the loving future for which God died and rose again. In worship, God makes external in the body of Christ God's internal movements within our individual bodies in prayer.

So it's about bodies. Because it's about bodies, we may worship contemplatively as well as pray contemplatively. As our individual bodies marter deeply when we pray, so does the gathered body when we worship. Contemplative wisdom is no more or less than wisdom about what God does in, with, and for bodies--bodies God fills with God's own living, loving self and draws into community in the one body of Christ. So we may lean into solitude in worship. We may also find in discernment the prayerful key to our vocation of planning worship. Becoming contemplative worshipers, we remember what we habitually and ritually forget: worship is about bodies, and prayer is about the body of Christ.

How then might we begin?

Leaning into stillness in worship

Contemplative worshipers lean into solitude in worship. It will be a different thing in worship than in individual prayer. It will be social solitude. Being-in-love-together. We do well to call this social solitude "stillness" and to affirm, as contemplatives do, that solitude or stillness is not the same as silence. While "those who long for a state of solitude when they pray must first become accustomed to silence,"'(12) stillness in worship is not the absence of noise. Silence in worship is a gift from God--both a blessing and, especially, beyond our control. All of our pauses may and probably will be filled, at the very least, by shuffling bulletins, coughing people, and anxious, wandering minds.

Instead, contemplative worshipers see stillness in worship as stillness in our spirits. Contemplative stillness in worship will be the utter ceasing of our attempts to prove ourselves to God and each other. It will be the calm surrender of trusting God's unfailing love to uphold us through all things and beyond death. It will be the rest of accepting ourselves, our families, and our lives as they are--bathed in God's abundant love. So, contemplative worshipers lean into stillness even as our bodies move and our voices sing. We lean with Mary who sat at Jesus' feet while Martha worked. (13) In this spiritual stillness, we become aware that "everything we do [is] a royal waste of time. Nothing that we do, no matter how wonderful we are as [worshipers] or as persons, will change one whit how God feels about us!" (14)

Dealing with bodily distractions

Of course, leaning into stillness, contemplative worshipers must deal with distractions. As in prayer, this is the key to contemplative leaning in worship. For the body of Christ is no different than our individual bodies. It, like our own bodies, is full of distractions. When we pray by ourselves, what can we do with an itchy toe, a backache, or a wandering mind? We do well when we accept these in prayer, ignoring the meaningless ones and letting the significant ones become our prayer. These bodily distractions in prayer humble us, show us Christ in the flesh, even amuse and enliven us. In dealing with them, Thibodeaux warns emphatically, "My anxiety, distress, guilt and anger about the distractions are far more detrimental to my prayer than the distractions themselves." (15) In other words, what ruins prayer are not distractions, but how we see and respond to them.

The same wisdom holds in worship. Shouting babies, restless children, anxious adults, and loud-whispering seniors are the bodily distractions of worship. They are us, and our corporate distractions are best received and accepted as God's gifts of humility and life, some meaningless and others quite significant--like the possessed man who interrupted Jesus' first sermon. (16) What truly distracts us is how we ourselves perceive and react to them. When anger rises up within us in response to loud children, for example, that anger and the anxiety that birthed it is a spiritual problem far more detrimental to our worship than the children's noise itself For having distractions in worship, as in prayer,
  is not a mark of inadequacy or inability.  It simply means that
  [we are] human.  [We] need not worry about the various distractions
  that come and go, because God, the creator of [our] wandering
  spirit[s], will have no problems getting around and through them.
  [God] may even be the source of these distractions, calling [us] to
  refocus [our] prayerful attention on them. (17)


Contemplative worshipers lean into stillness in the midst of distractions. Above all, contemplative worshipers embody humility and enact God's patient love for us all, gently making room in worship for us when we are that most obnoxious distraction.

Two of Thibodeaux's prayer exercises, (18) adapted for worship, offer help for leaning into stillness through distractions. The first deals with distractions that come from within our own selves; the second with those that come from the body of Christ, our sisters and brothers gathered for worship.

Offering Up Pesky Distractions

1. Once I have decided that these distractions simply won't go away, I change strategies and now focus on them. I imagine myself quietly, reverently carrying each distraction to the communion table. Even if many of the distractions are silly and meaningless, I offer them all up to the Lord.

2. I smile and say to God, "Well, Lord, this is the best I can do today. Please accept these meager gifts."

3. All the while that I am placing these distractions on the table, I use the mantra, "Totally yours," telling God that all in my life--even these silly little thoughts--are God's.

People Distractions

This exercise begins with the presumption that I am in the middle of worship and am having trouble quieting myself because of some distraction coming from a person in worship.

1. Once I have decided that this distraction is worth praying over, I change strategies and now focus my heart and mind (not my eyes!) on the person distracting me. I ask God to show me that person through Christ's eyes. I continue reflecting on God's perception of this person as long as I am able.

2. I ask God to show me Christ's perception of my relationship with this person. For example, if I am glad to be with my family or friends in worship, I ask for God's impression of the relationship: "Is my love for them Christ-like love? Am I helping them become more compassionate disciples of Christ? Have I let these relationships block me from showing love to or making friends with others in the congregation?" Or, if I am frustrated with a parent and their restless child, I ask for God's impression of the relationship: "Am I right to be angry, Lord? Am I being fair, here? Does this parent see me as someone who can lovingly and discreetly help them with their child? What can I do to welcome this child as Jesus himself welcomed children? How do I want this child to remember me?"

3. I spend some time thanking God for the life of this person (even if my present feelings toward the person are very negative) and I ask God to help me to carry God's own perception of this person throughout my day. If I've made some decision about how to act today and feel that the action is the right thing to do, then I ask God to give me the courage to do what needs to be done.

Leaning into stillness in worship means sitting in love with the distractions of the body of Christ. In this way, contemplative worshipers let worship be a place where noisy and anxious people may learn of God's loving presence.

Worship planning as discernment

Contemplative worship planners listen for God. Worship planners serve the whole body by prayerfully attending to the body's worship--not only its styles and practices but also its spirit, the Spirit. Contemplative worship planners are the ears of the body: what they hear shapes what they plan.

Listening for God means listening again. Contemplative prayers call this "discernment." Discerning God in our prayer means reviewing recent prayer experiences, noticing words, images, themes, questions, and moods.(19) Thibodeaux calls these "graces" because they are from God--they are God, speaking and acting through our prayer. Noticing graces is already discernment, but deeper discernment comes in sharing them. Thibodeaux suggests five simple ways: sharing the graces with God in prayer, journaling about them, and sharing them with a friend, a spiritual mentor, and our faith community. (20) Such sharing of graces is no more or less than telling the story of our prayer--discerning the story God is telling through our prayer.

Discernment about worship is really no different, only communal--a continually unfolding conversation. Contemplative worship planners discern by telling stories about God's graces in worship and listening to the new stories they evoke.

In doing so, they may find help in Ignatian Examen prayer.(21) Reflecting on the day past, examen prayers consider two questions: When did I feel closest to God today? When did I feel farthest away? Contemplative worship planners might likewise wonder: When did I feel closest to God in worship? When did I feel farthest away? Then they might start a coffee hour conversation like this: "Let me tell you when I felt closest to God in worship today"--continuing, "How about you?" Or they might host a post-Easter potluck, where table conversation involves examen reflection on the whole of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Day worship. This kind of conversation--storytelling that invites others' stories--is discernment, because it helps all of us listen again and notice God in worship.

Noticing God in worship

Contemplative worship planners are thus not experts on liturgy or music or the like, but instead lead noticers. When worship begins, they make like Zaccheus: caring more about catching a glimpse of Jesus than about the plans they made. Satterlee's advice to all worshipers is especially useful for planners. "Notice what you and others are doing, because worship is action." Notice, moreover, the particulars. Since "worship is always a concrete event at a specified place and time involving particular people who have their own way of doing things," focus on "the specific, concrete event we experienced or witnessed." Finally, notice God. "God is more than the audience, the One to whom we address our prayers, praise, songs, and confession. God is the power at work in worship." (22)

Such noticing is deeply intertwined with the stillness contemplative worshipers lean into. "We worship well-when we worship joyfully and expectantly because we trust that God will speak and act through worship. We worship vigilantly because we are eager to hear what God is speaking and to participate in what God is doing."(23) Leaning into stillness involves this same joyful expectance, just as worshiping well involves contemplative prayer's same letting go of self.

In fact, worship planning committees may seek members who worship well, who grasp intuitively what it is to lean into stillness, and who talk about what they have seen. For contemplative worship planners are first contemplative worshipers--contemplative worshipers who tell stories. Their stories need not be grand or marvelous. Instead, "the best stories are small and unassuming" because they "spark a new story in the mind of the listener. This new story, which listeners create for themselves, connects with them emotionally and leads them to act. In fact, this new story becomes a story they live by."(24) Moreover, these new and multiplying stories are the stories contemplative worship planners plan by.

The Holy Spirit as lead worship planner

Contemplative worship planners let the Holy Spirit teach us how to worship. Practically speaking, they let a congregation's stories of God speaking and acting in worship set the planning agenda. This is the key to becoming contemplative worship planners. They wonder not, "What are we going to do in worship this Sunday?" but, "What did God do in worship last Sunday? In light of that love, how might we worship God next?" Contemplative worship planners let our stories about God speaking in worship become the stories we all live by together.

In this way, they are like the two dejected disciples who walked to Emmaus on the first Easter.(25) Seeing the resurrected Jesus in the breaking of bread--in other words, in worship--they ran back to the others in Jerusalem and told the story: how the crucified One, now risen, appeared to them in worship. In the telling, Jesus appeared again to all of them. This story forever changed the way Jesus' disciples worshipped. We live by it to this day, every time we break bread together.

Consider what Rose Mary Dougherty says about what discernment is and, especially, what it does.
  Discernment on prayer is really prayer about our prayer. In this
  prayer we open ourselves to God's gaze, looking with God at God's
  desire for us, our desire for God, noticing how our prayer reflects
  these desires. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, our prayer becomes an
  expression of what we have come to know about God and ourselves
  through this looking. (26)


Contemplative worship planners do this for worship. Discernment on worship is really prayer--communal prayer, prayerful conversation--about worship. Contemplative worship planners aim, not ro manage complaints and balance preferences, to force stubborn worshipers to change, or to check tasks off a list, but to help open us all to God's gaze. Looking with the congregation and with God at God's desire for us, our desire for God, contemplative worship planners help us notice how our worship reflects these desires. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, our worship becomes an expression of what we have come to know about God and ourselves through this looking. In other words, yielding the lead to the Holy Spirit, worship moves like lovers dancing. So how will we worship next? How will we and our worship move?

Spontaneous worshipers

Leaning into the perfect stillness of God's love, worship becomes being-in-love-together. Listening again to God who is love, the worship we plan moves toward loving self-forgetfulness. In other words, we and our worship reflect the utter release of knowing ourselves completely grasped by Love. We become more spontaneous worshipers, more flexible worship planners, and worship itself becomes richer and more varied.

Contemplative worshipers become more spontaneous worshipers. In contemplative wisdom, the theme of spontaneity emerges from others like wonder, surrender, ecstasy, immediacy, and presence. Spontaneity is the dance of joy that comes when God "awaken [s] love in your heart."(27) Spontaneity is the "opening" or "enlivening of self" that comes as an answer to prayer, as when we are "pulled into the world by our prayer and find ourselves suddenly involved and active in it."(28)
  Believing that the Lord is capably in charge of the universe, we
  merely try to sit in God's presence with an attitude of trust and
  acceptance; we let go of our planning and rely on God's providence.
  This attitude helps us to live in the present, and not be dragged off
  from prayer by an anxious and calculating mind. (29)


Our spontaneous selves emerge from stillness and solitude in prayer and from the surrender to our trustworthy God. Forgetting ourselves, we simply go with the Spirit's urgings, surprising ourselves with what we say and do and feel.

Contemplative worshipers find themselves spontaneously caught up in the action, and they honor the spontaneous responses of other worshipers. Spontaneous worshipers are the young girl dancing between the pews as the congregation sings "This is the Feast," the man having his feet washed for the first time on Maundy Thursday when he had no such plans twenty minutes before, and the parent choking up while proclaiming Isaiah's Advent promise of a child. For
  worship is a verb. "To worship" is to invoke God's
  immediacy--God's awesome "nowness" in which divine presence is
  subjectively apprehended. Although worship's primary purpose is
  doxological, worshiping also marks us objectively as people to whom
  something subjective has happened: the inward conviction of faith,
  the subjective knowledge that Christ loves us enough to die for us.
  In the practices of worship, Jesus reveals his mystery as often as
  his message, and invites us--by playful, ecstatic, and sacramental
  means--into the passionate love of God. (30)


In other words, contemplative worshipers know worship is neither a bulletin nor a worship book but an event--not of ideas but bodies, people in motion. (31) They begin to worship like Paul and Silas, whose spontaneous singing and preaching in jail released prisoners and jailer alike and gave way to spontaneous baptism and communion, God's joyful catharsis of washing and eating. (32) Such is the holy, bodily nowness of worship. Contemplative worshipers simply wait for God to draw them in.

Children can be leaders of spontaneous worship. Maybe this is why Jesus invited children into the center of his circle of disciples.(33) Worshiping with children, we may learn to worship differently. We may hesitate to so quickly shush or restrain children, especially when they are responding to what is happening in worship. We may move more freely and use our voices more often. We may come to see worship in a whole new light. Maybe what the pastor is saying is not the most important thing happening right now. Maybe we can be at rest and on the move at the same time. Maybe reverence means running to receive communion.

There is no planning or implementing spontaneity. All contemplative worshipers can do, perhaps, is practice being present--which this exercise, adapted for worship, may help them do:

One Minute Practice of Presence (34)

Receive any moment of quiet in worship--perhaps before the prelude begins, after the sermon ends, as the offering is collected, or even standing in line for communion. Wherever you are--wherever you are--is a place of presence.

+ Make it simple. Today you do not need fancy words or lofty feelings. Just you and however you can show up, right now. The cosmos is big enough for all your joy, and all your pain. Just show up.

+ Breathe. Simply breathe. Notice the texture and temperature of the air you inhale. Breathe enough oxygen to feel movement in your body. Expand your chest and your belly.

+ Exhale. Let go. Let go of everything that does not serve you or the integrity of the other. The universe knows what to do with let-go's. We don't have to do anything except let go.

+ Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe out. Breathe in. Allow each inhale to go deeper, every exhale deliberate. Feel energy move and shift in your body as your cells oxygenate.

+ Awaken your senses. Be present to yourself and your surroundings. Notice what attracts your attention, and stay with that. Simultaneously turn your attention to your breathing. Continue for as long as you desire. What do you notice?

+ Draw in the deepest breath of your day. Perhaps the deepest breath of your life. Breathe gratitude. As you exhale, let go into the present moment.

Contemplative worshipers bring to worship the quality of presence this exercise suggests, and then they wait with Ezekiel, watching for the Breath that will make these dry bones dance. For worship, as prayer, is not about mastering techniques--doing it "right"--but about showing up, fully and truly.

Flexible worship planners

Contemplative worship planners become more flexible. Contemplative prayers also discover the need to be flexible: "Rigiditycan turn a commitment to regular prayer into an oppressive burden; flexibility, which a rich repertory of methods makes possible, is needed to integrate prayer peacefully into the day."(36) Rigidity in prayer is a symptom of assuming
  prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto
  mechanics. That puts us in the "on-top" position, where we are
  competent and in control. But when praying, we come "underneath,"
  where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become
  incompetent. "To pray ... means to be willing to be naive." (37)


Flexibility is itself a symptom of God's love. "Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love." (38) Contemplative worship planners likewise plan worship from underneath, naively in love with God and the congregation. Not experts expertly adhering to the rules, they let worship be our childlike reaching for God.

Enriching our worship repertory may mean introducing new songs, liturgies, musical instruments, storytelling, art, prayers, table practices, or language for God. It may mean seasonal variation in the formality of worship, the arrangement of the worship space, even the location of worship (for example, seasonal out-of-doors worship). Through discernment, the heart of their vocation, contemplative worship planners let God reveal which new treasures to introduce.

This will mean considering a congregation's worship sensibilities. In prayer, "our religious sensibilities" are "the peculiar ways we find ourselves responsive to the mystery of God's presence. [For t]he Lord draws people to intimacy with different strings of love."(39) As individuals have religious sensibilities, so congregations have worship sensibilities. In the body of Christ, our worship sensibilities are varied, even contradicting. Contemplative worship planners recognize our worship repertory must be at least as rich as the body is diverse.

Paul's judgment against Corinthian worship was this: "One goes hungry, and another gets drunk."(40) So contemplative worship planners attend to the varying hungers of the body. They notice, for example, that what feeds adults in worship may leave children still hungering for God, or what fills middle class worshipers may leave both more and less wealthy worshipers starving. Contemplative worshipers and worship planners alike trust that God's loving presence in worship is enough for all of us. Gently they yield to the worship sensibilities of their brothers and sisters, so worship may be a rich feast for truly all who gather. In this way, rich and varied worship is a communal act of love, a practice of loving restraint.

Centered in God

Of course, love also reveals flexibility's limits, and contemplative worship planners become more centered in God. For the abiding, life-shaping power of worship and prayer alike is in constant repetition not endless variety.(41) As in individual prayer, limits for flexibility in worship are neither absolute nor universal but emerge within each congregation's unique tradition, history, and character. Of course, " [s]ometimes people do not value their own religious experience enough. They want to pray the way others pray, not in their own way."(42) But contemplative worship planners persist in the conviction that a congregations own way to worship will be a unique repetition, generous and rich, not repetitious but nonetheless a repetition. They let what we do again and again, and how we do it, reflect the way God meets us, of all people, and the specific strings of love God tugs.

Contemplative worship planners discover a congregation's own way to worship through seeking God's will for worship, not our own. For we are not the center of worship, God is. As
  we keep God as the center of our worship life and worshipful
  lives ... we will find countless possibilities, endless resources,
  innumerable ways to encounter and express God's infinite presence. If
  our congregations enter the adventure of weekly gatherings to waste
  time royally as we explore God's unceasing revelations, then we will
  stop fighting over the wrong questions, the marketers' opinion,
  cultural pressures, unbiblical solutions. (43)


Focusing on a congregation's complex and shifting worship sensibilities finally only feeds rigidity. Instead, planners find flexibility in being generously grounded in God.

Contemplative worship planners may write a congregational worship statement to help them stay richly and flexibly centered in God.
  Each congregation has enough conflicting opinions and preferences
  to create unsettling confusion unless those who lead provide clear
  direction. Worship planners confront suggestions and ideas today that
  they had never anticipated. In addition, we need to reflect our
  denominational identities, our congregational personalities, and our
  growing awareness of the richness of ecumenicity. Leadership [may]
  develop a carefully formulated statement of the convictions and
  values that shape worship. (44)


What is our theology of worship? The purpose of worship? Who are the participants and what are the practices of our worship? By what process do we plan worship? While requiring several months of study and conversation, a statement addressing these questions can be a powerful tool for discernment, not to mention formation, evaluation, and education. (45)

With or without a written statement, contemplative worship planners provide such clear and gracious leadership. They do so, trusting that, when the risen Christ appeared in their midst, the disciples surely said, "We never worshiped like this before." Alive to the living and "infinite center" (46) of Christ among us, contemplative worship planners prepare us for the day when we and our worship will never be the same.

Waiting in the body in love

Worship is the living heart of the body of Christ, because God's love is what happens there. God's love pulses through worship, giving life to the body. Contemplative worshipers attend to this, our communal heart--not that they find worship always magnificent and transcendent. In fact, becoming contemplative worshipers may mean becoming more aware of how ordinary, fragile, tense, boring, and down-right humanworship can be. How much, frankly, like our own bodies. Contemplative prayers learn this of prayer as well, and the deepest wisdom of the contemplative tradition bids prayers and worshipers alike simply to wait even there, in the body, for God. For "like the stories we tell, God's activity in worship is often small and unassuming. We therefore need to remain patient and to celebrate the small changes."(47) Becoming contemplative worshipers is about nothing more or less. Attending to worship, we wait in love for God.

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Thibodeaux, Mark E., S.J. Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001.

Ulanov, Ann and Barry. Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982.

Vennard, Jane E. A Praying Congregation: The Art of Teaching Spiritual Practice. Herndon, Va.: The Alban Institute, 2005.

Also, special thanks to instructor and spiritual director Barbara Martell, the Worship and Music committee of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in South Plainfield, New Jersey, and the Writer's Group in Davenport, Iowa.

(1.) Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks Through Worship: Stories Congregation Live By (Herndon, Va.: The Alban Intitue, 2009). (15).

(2). William Johnston, S.J., Being in Love: A Practical Gudie to Christian Prayer (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001), 46, 50.

(3.) William Johnston, S.J., Being in Love: A Practical Guide to Christian Prayer (New York: Fordham University Press, 1999). 70.

(4.) Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic, 16; emphasis in original.

(5.) Lorraine Brugh and Gordon Lathrop, The Sunday Assembly: Using Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Vol. 1. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), 37; emphasis in original.

(6.) William A. Barry, S.J., "The Kingdom of God: What Role Do We Play?" America magazine, (September 23, 1989):

(7.) Satterlee, When God Speaks Through Worship, 5; emphasis mine.

(8.) Johnston, Being in Love, 134.

(9.) Ann and Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer (Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1982), 85.

(10.) cf. Rose Mary Dougherry, S.S.N.D., Group Spiritual Direction: Community for Discernment (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1995), 13.

(11.) Brugh and Lathrop, The Sunday Assembly, 25; emphasis in original.

(12.) Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic, 41.

(13.) Luke 10:38; cp. Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic, 43.

(14.) Marva J. Dawn, A Royal "Waste" of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 13-14; emphasis in original.

(15.) Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic, 120; emphasis in original.

(16.) Mark 1:21 ff.

(17.) Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic, 127-128

(18.) Ibid., 124, 126-127.

(19.) Ibid., 94.

(20.) Ibid., 109-117.

(21.) Dennis and Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1995).

(22.) Satterlee, When GodSpeaks Through Worship, 128-130; emphasis in original.

(23.) Ibid., 128.

(24.) Ibid., 127.

(25.) Luke 24:13ff.

(26.) Dougherry, Group Spriritual Direction, 27.

(27.) Johnston, Being in Love, 131.

(28.) Ulanov, Primary Speech, 100-101; emphasis mine.

(29.) Wilke Au, S.J., By Way of the Heart: Toward a Holistic Christian Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 107.

(30.) Kenda Creasy Dean, " Moshing for Jesus," in Brian K. Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, ed., Making Room at the Table: An Invitation to Multicultural Worship (Louisville, Ky.: Westminister John Knox Press, 2001), 134; emphasis in original.

(31.) William T. Cavanaugh, "The Social Meaning of the Liturgy" (paper presented at the Institute for Liturgical Studies, Valparaiso, Ind., March 31-April 1, 2008),

(32.) Acts 16: 11ff.

(33.) cf. Mark 10:13-16; Matt 19:13-14; Luke 19:15-17

(34.) "Five Minute Practice of Presence." Listen, January 2008, Volume 2: Issue 1.

(35.) Ezek 37:1ff.

(36.) Au, By Way of the Heart, 92-93

(37.) Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home (New York: Harper-One, 1992), 7-8

(38.) Ibid., 3.

(39.) Au, By Way of the Heart, 93.

(40.) 1 Cor 11:21

(41.) 41 cf. Maxwell Johnson, LSTC Leadership Conference, 3 April 2011: "Liturgy shapes believing not by variety but by constant repetition."

(42.) Au, By Way of the Heart, 94.

(43.) Dawn, A Royal "Waste" of Time, 8-9.

(44.) Norma deWaal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwcil, Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning {Herndon, Va.: The Alban Institute, 2005), 69.

(45.) Malefyt and Vanderwell, Designing Worship Together, 72-73.

(46.) Dawn, A Royal "Waste" of Time, 8.

(47.) Satterlee, When God Speaks Through Worship, 131.

Clark K. Olson-Smith

Pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, Davenport, Lowa
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