I’m sentimental. I think it comes with being older. So does getting up 5 times during the night to pee, or forgetting what you just did a few minutes ago. But that a discussion for another day.
My sentimentalities cause me to look back fondly on past experiences like family vacations; or movies I remember, or songs that I learned growing up and that I hum from time to time. The best thing about the new smart phones is that you can quickly download an old tune from your youth, and listen to it again as you remember it. Sometimes the artists who have recorded these popular songs will once again play a rendition of that old song for a contemporary crowd that, like me, tenderly remembers their music. They may not be able to hit those high notes any more, but that doesn’t seem to be important to the people listening. The crowd sways and sings along, and there is a moment there when something intimate happens. I have watched any number of musicians who, when reprising one of their old songs, steps back from the microphone and lets the crowd continue to sing the lyrics. To me there’s just something magical in that moment: the bond between artist and audience, or in this case between musician and listener, is drawn together in an intimate way around the artist’s labor of love, their work of art.
We are God’s canvas, His glorious works of art (see Paul’s description of us as God’s workmanship in Ephesians 2:10; or the description of the writer’s Beloved in the Song of Solomon 7: 1-2 in The Message). In the grand moment of exalting the Creator’s glorious ways and tender mercies (the weekly church service) when all His precious creatures draw near to honor the One who imparts wisdom and life to us; in this moment of intimacy where Artist and Artwork reflect and embrace the Potter’s labor of love – this moment is often lost in the ordinary and routine of the weekly structure. It seems we’re just too formulaic: four songs, an offering in between, some announcements, a snazzy video production, a live or perhaps a videotaped message, the closing number, and off we go. This is about as intimate as shopping in the grocery store.
OK so perhaps I’m speaking from an emotional perspective. And it’s not always about emotion. In order to build an effective character we need to discipline our minds, take our wayward thoughts captive, and not give in to our emotional cravings to satisfy this flesh. I get that. But I miss those windows of intimacy in the presence of my Saviour. I miss those abiding prayer moments around the altar. I miss it when the person at the piano begins to play under the anointing of the Spirit, without specifically singing the lyric but just repeating the chorus over and over. I miss those times when we break out of the formula and begin to cry out to God in our hurt and in our need. And when we do this, it seems that a moment will occur when we sense a rush, and we feel like we’ve been heard. In those moments our sovereign God reminds us that He is on the throne, and that as our Artist and Creator, He has not forsaken us. Perhaps our prayers will be answered at that moment; and perhaps not. But in that moment it seems like we sensed the hand of God was near, touching our wounded heart. We recognize our frame, that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14); but this dust was shaped into the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:7), breathed on by the living God, and the power of this understanding is enough to carry us through the challenges that we face.
So I’m being sentimental again. But I can’t help it. I want to be intimate with God, with my wife and my kids and our good friends. I don’t necessarily want to be intimate with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as much as I appreciate their music. But they have learned something that we in the church have forgotten: that this is an interchange, not a performance. This is sharing of love, not a trip down memory lane. Artist and audience meet to celebrate this created entity, something that binds both together; and something from which both draw strength. We relish the experience because this work of art is the intermingling of pain and joy, heartache and surrender, culminating in the integration of artist and audience into a new relationship.
Paul attempts to describe the start of a new intimate experience as he reflects on man and wife becoming one flesh (Ephesians 5:28-32) and then his passionate expression morphs into a reflection of intimacy as represented by Christ and the Church. I read this description and my heart aches for this relationship, so natural and so meant for us to experience. My moments with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on YouTube are a pleasant but inadequate substitute for this intimacy. Kind of like other colas are only a poor substitute for Coca-Cola. Huh, you say? You remember that marketing campaign, don’t you? They told us that Coke is “The Real Thing.” If you’re a Pepsi drinker you will strongly disagree. But I echo Paul the Apostle when I suggest that, “I’m not talking about a false intimacy with anything in this world. I’m speaking about Christ and His church.” That intimacy – as designed by the great Creator – that is the real thing! Let us not allow these moments to fade into a sentimental memory.