How Imagination And Artistic Expression Relate To Worship
Scripture assures the believer that one approaches God through the work of Jesus. So when one prays, there is help by imagining Jesus on the Cross; picturing Him on the Cross; picturing their self bowing before the Cross; seeing with the eyes of their imagination His blood running down the beam, flowing right around their knees. This kind of ‘mental’ exercise—combining the objective historical truth of the Crucifixion with the eyes of the imagination—helps one draw near to God. Bowing the head, kneeling down, closing the eyes, holding a Bible, lifting an arm, looking up to the sky, or any number of other inward/outward practices helps look through the eyes of their imagination into the unseen realities of God. The mystery is that none of these practices provide in themselves any spiritual merit. But, when worshipers allow their imagination to join their intellect when they worship, they may indeed engage more fully with God.
When people worship in public, their worship is more fully facilitated by their environment, the influences of worship leadership, their understanding of theology, and the cultural contexts surrounding them. People come together, . . . in some sort of “environment,” . . . to participate in human activities, . . . that involve metaphors and symbols. When the experience is genuine, fused with reverence and focused faith on God, the worshiper often comes to a point where the ”whole” of the experience is greater than the sum of its parts. When genuine worship is experienced, something goes on larger than all the parts of that gathering. It is at this point that Imaginative human expression takes place. And, imaginative human expression is always present in any public worship context.
Additionally, public gatherings will often be more successful if . . . someone endowed and skilled with more-than-average abilities in artistic human expression . . . are released to plan and help implement the gathering’s process.
Whether in private or public worship settings, 1) imaginative expressions help the worship experience; and 2) human expression specialists are strategic in facilitating worship. Therefore we can be sure that God designed artistic expression to be a central part of the fabric of human life and community.
Along with being spiritual, cognitive, and moral, humans are also imaginative. Animals have instinct, but people have imagination in a highly developed way. And that imagination reflects, in a small way, our Creator. It’s no wonder that Paul reaches the limitations of language in describing the vastness of Christ’s love for us—its width and length and height and depth. He leans into the poetic to more fully express to us that this love “surpasses knowledge,” and Paul struggles to articulate his prayer for us to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19 NIV).
So when it comes to the activity of worship—worship that must make sense to us in the context of our culture if it is to have meaning at all—that sort of worship demands more than just propositions of fact. It requires symbols and metaphors and rituals that help people connect with the invisible realities of God Himself; the sort of worship that moves people to press toward the edges of one’s human capacity to express. Those kinds of worship activities—private or public—demand that one take the realities of God and His truths beyond the languages of the head into the languages of the heart. And that realm is the realm of artistic expression.