Wednesday, June 16, 2010

20 Seconds of Joy

I caught this on TV last night and found it fascinating. It is a documentary following a Norwegian base-jumper, and it explores what drives people to pursue these extreme sports. It had interesting things to say about the nature of fear, and the way in which facing and conquering the fear of death - which you need to do if you're going to jump off the side of a cliff - leads to much greater equanimity and sense of proportion in the rest of life. I'd recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

It also struck me, however, that some people have the same attitude to worship that base-jumpers have to the adrenaline rush (the "20 seconds of joy"). They seek a 'hit' - an internal 'charging' of their spirituality, in the same way that the base-jumpers entered a state akin to meditation when they really had to concentrate on pulling the parachute cord at the right moment. Just as with any other addiction, familiarity breeds contempt. The Norwegian girl rapidly became accustomed to simply jumping off a cliff and flying down, so she pursued a path of flying closer to the cliffs for a greater rush. In the same way I have the impression that much Christian "worship" is about pursuing a particular experience, a particular subjective state, which allows some self-forgetfulness, and we end up with the phenomenon where "the pastor feels like a cult prostitute, selling his or her love for the approval of an upwardly mobile, bored middle class, who, more than anything else, want some relief from the anxiety brought on by their materialism" (Hauerwas & Willimon).

I think that to really enter into a genuine and transformative relationship with the living God a believer has to be prepared to work past the threshold of boredom with regard to worship. It is only when the self, with all its immoderate and ultimately jaded appetites, its consumer preferences and idolatry of choice, is subject to a higher discipline that a genuine intimacy with God can be found.

Put differently, many contemporary worship forms will simply end up breaking the legs of the believer. Liturgy puts them back together.


  1. Definitely agree with your last two paras (no pun intended).

  2. Of course, liturgy can be entertainment too. I've been at 'stunning' liturgies where choreography easily upstaged any sense of connection with God.

  3. Tim - agreed, there is a 'sweet spot of the spirit' where things all come together in appropriate proportion.


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