In Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, he talks a lot about having a “pastoral imagination,” which can basically be defined as “a way of seeing, a seeing of more than what is immediately present, what one scholar calls a ‘seeing in depth’”. A biblical imagination is finding ourselves within the biblical story.
This can give direction, meaning, and depth to things that can easily become monotonous and tedious. Things, such as worship–both on Sunday and in the everyday.
I have been combing scripture to find this “biblical imagination” that will allow me to see what I am doing in greater depth. Recently I was struck by one of the first acts and places of congregational worship- the ark of the convent. The ark was a rectangular, coffin-like box 4 ft. 2 in. long, 30 in. wide and high, and covered in gold. The center was designated the “mercy seat,” and it was flanked by cherubim with outstretched wings. The focus and function of the Ark was the empty space marked off by the cherubim– nothing to see; nothing to hear; nothing to handle. But it was not mere emptiness, but rather, emptiness that is fullness– the fullness of Him who fills all in all: “I AM that I AM”. Yahweh: who revealed himself to Moses as presence. When asked to give a name, a noun, He answered with a form of the verb “to be:” “I am WHO I am”– I am present, I am presence.
God would not, and will not, be made into an object. He is not a thing to be named or wielded. We cannot turn God into an idea to be discussed. He is not a power to be harnessed. We cannot use God for making or doing.
God called His people to worship Him in the expanse, in the void, in the invisible. Invisible, yet present. Present with them wherever they went. Our task is to be present to the one who is present to us. As simple as this sounds, none of us find this much to our liking. Actually, the very interesting thing is that between the parts of scripture when God gives the specs of the ark to Moses and when the ark is actually built, the people go ahead and build for themselves an idol of a golden calf. And we join them in our various idolatries or our ways of trying to make God into our image and use Him for our purposes.
The ark was God’s plan and place for worship. A few things stand out to me about worship from the text:
- The ark served as a reminder that God goes with us and is with us (and worship must do this).
- Worship of the invisible God frees people from ideas, attitudes, and practices that prevent them from letting God be God for us on God’s terms and not ours.
- Worship is an art, using the sensory to bring us into awareness of and attentiveness to the mystery of God.
- Worship is an act of faith that should cause us to unclench our idols and reach out to God.
- Worship is being present to the presence.