|"Health-Tips" CC0 1.0 by Elaine Smith. Source: Flickr|
I recently underwent a medical test, which allowed an assessment of symptoms "in a controlled environment." The facilities are sanitized, the staff highly trained, the equipment top-notch, the medicines carefully monitored. Every effort was made to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
However, I knew that as symptoms were forced/enhanced, the test would make me uncomfortable. I wasn't at a spa, after all. As the discomfort inevitably happened, I knew that I was being cared for, and that as valuable information was being collected during the test, it would help in future.
Afterwards, I re-entered the real world - the uncontrolled and uncontrollable environment. Doing so, I reflected that our experience of worship can be like this: a controlled environment, providing support and information for the uncontrolled world.
We gather in a time and space dedicated to worship: we enjoy a tried-and-true liturgical structure (from collect to dismissal), we absorb the theological intentionality of the physical layout, we hear the word of God and its homiletic interpretation to calm our tortured souls, we are comforted by the comfortable words as invitation to foretaste the feast.
We receive this spiritual care in a controlled environment. All the while, we know that this is but a microcosm of the real world that exists both within and without our four walls. This received and controlled care supports our continued mission and ministry every day.
Just as good liturgy will comfort the afflicted, it will also afflict the comfortable. So for those coming to worship in distress, our controlled environment should bring an increase in spiritual health. For those who come to sit in a comfortable pew, a certain level of discomfort should be expected: we do pray that God will stir up in us a desire to bring justice to the world, after all.
Thus, our time in worship is a type of diagnostic for our spiritual health. We are all in need of healing; and as we are cared for, we are being inspired to invite others to the source of that care. May we appreciate the controlled environment, understand it as a time to reflect and assess, and journey in spiritual health in the uncontrollable spiritual realm where we live our lives.