January 14, 2012

The Spirit Nigh

Posted in Holy Spirit, Pentecost, The Eucharist, Worship at 9:23 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

We hear the Word, yet search for Thee,
O Holy Dove, Inspiring One,
In spectacle and pageantry,
And fail to see what Thou hast done.

Our meager prayers would have no wings,
Save through Thine utterance divine,
Yet we desire baser things
And seek Thee where we will not find.

We sing to God with cheerful heart
And think our voice is all our own.
We do not hear Thy robust part
In rounding out the pleasant tone.

We take the Bread, but fail to see
How Thou didst sanctify the grain.
We drink the wine on bended knee,
And rise to look for Thee again.

Thou dost not come in howling wind;
Thy presence overcomes the bedlam.
We find Thee, not among the din,
But in kinship of the kingdom.

Thou wouldst not have us lift our gaze
To Thee, but to the Son, our Savior
Whose love deserves our joyful praise
And adoration now and ever.

O, Spirit of consuming fire,
Burn off our dross and come to heal
Our deadness; then in us inspire
Devotion that is rich and real.

Copyright © 2012, 2017 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

I have never understood how anyone can reject liturgy—even and especially the 1662 Book of Common Prayer—as “dead orthodoxy.” Any service of worship, liturgical or not, can be infected by the deadness of the worshipers’ hearts, but Anglican liturgy is grounded in Scripture, and by association, is filled with the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures. I was once seated at a table with several people who were strongly (STRONGLY) in favor of ditching the traditional prayer book for a “more accessible” version. I was not looking for an argument, but someone scathingly noted that the Anglican body to which I belong doesn’t use an updated liturgy. My response was, “But we do use the updated liturgy. We follow the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, not the 1549.” For some reason, I wasn’t included in the conversation after that.

Of course, if the language used in worship is not comprehensible to most of the worshipers, then by Cranmer’s own principles, there is a problem, and the Church is obligated to do resolve it. But the problem is perhaps not with the liturgy but with a culture that does not know its own history and that has purposely traded majesty for mediocrity. The cadences and meaning-charged words (what, pray tell, is the modern equivalent of “vouchsafe”?) that grace the older liturgies are simply not to be compared with the flat, stale language of most modern-language versions. Besides, there are phrases in the 1979 BCP that I find incomprehensible. What on earth is “our anger at our own frustration”?

But that is not the only problem. Extreme charismatics would say that the Holy Spirit has not “shown up” unless something spectacular happens in worship. The One who brings order out of chaos is expected to cause worship to devolve into something that draws attention to Himself and to the worshipers. But this attitude belies the purpose for which Jesus said the Spirit would empower the Church:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-14)

We need to turn away from sensationalism and toward orderly, majestic, beautiful worship that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone. Any so-called “worship experience” that emphasizes feelings and frenzy is sadly out of line with the whole purpose for which we are called to the house of God.

I completed this poem on 20 October 2007, probably while I was supposed to be writing a paper for Anglicanism. I didn’t like the original last verse, or the final line of the previous verse, so I edited them tonight.

Note: On 14 January 2017, I read this poem again and didn’t like the meter in some of the lines, so I edited it again.

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