(Originally published in Worship Leader March/April 2012. Subscribe today to get more articles like this one.)
Last fall, I got the chance to explore downtown Chicago with author Ian Cron (Chasing Francis, Jesus, My Father, the CIA & Me). Ian writes stories that share first encounters with the Catholic Mass. Little did I know, I was about to experience my first one, as well.
I’ve toured many cathedrals, but it’s way different when you are guided through the rich, visual theology of an ancient sacred space. The space was overwhelming. I was immersed in the visual story of God. High-rising naves, stories in stained glass, Stations of the Cross, symbols of the Trinity and four Gospels patterned in the floor… the very architecture spoke theology.
I was compelled to be still.
While Ian and I explored after communion, he pointed out how slowly and quietly we were walking. The visually overwhelming space stirred up in my soul a contemplative posture. I felt so small, yet so loved. The gaze of my soul was lifted upward.
I don’t remember many cutting-edge, technological “worship centers” doing that to me.
When I VJ, I try to create many different emotional atmospheres. And one of them is to recreate what I experienced in that cathedral. I am very intentional about being creative and overwhelming with my visuals, but I also want to do so in a contemplative way. In our endeavors to bring joy, life, and visual relevance into our worship services, we’ve created new expressive acts of celebration and attraction (including fancy new screens filled with motion backgrounds). Yet along the way, many of us unintentionally lost the art of silence … selah.
The key for visual leaders, any leader for that matter, is to identify what types of things are noise to God and decipher if we are adding to the clutter or truly laying people silently at the foot of God.
Yes … God Still Speaks, but are we helping people listen?
“He wasn’t in the fire. He wasn’t in the quake. He wasn’t in the wind. He’s in the whisper here!” – Bluetree, “Life’s Noise” (1 Kings 19:11-12)
It’s hard to offer a full solution in one article, nor should we offer up any “model” since every local church is unique. But here are three areas to think about when curating a contemplative experience.
Instead of running announcement slides, upbeat music, and having the house lights up all the way, create a darker, more reflective space for the worshiper to enter into. In doing so, you can really prepare hearts and set a tone. Run abstract visuals or Scripture on the screens. Light candles. Play slower, ambient, even “cathedral” type music. Environmental projection can really enhance the atmosphere, as well, allow the visual worship leader to recreate a virtual cathedral inside a once-blank worship center.
I love when worship leaders allow a musical moment to breathe. Where no one sings and we can simply reflect on what was just sung. I take advantage of these moments and lead visual worship by VJ-ing phrases, Scripture, Names of God or any visuals that compel the worshiper to be still and know that He is God.
This is a term that many of us in the media world use to describe the effect when the visuals go still or black. Motions are powerful and full of energy, but a “still” is timeless. And sometimes the most powerful visual is no visual at all. I love how my friend Camron Ware describes it:
For some leaders in churches, going dark can seem to go against everything we believe in as Christians. Light, hope, salvation, redemption, and celebration are all bright words that describe our life in Christ. But what about the first part of the Story? Though some people choose not to talk about darkness, hopelessness, sin, and death, those themes have a place in the Story. Including the first part of the Gospel Story in our worship reminds us why we have life, joy, and hope in Christ. I believe we can communicate that through our use of visual elements.
– Camron Ware, visualworshiper.com
God is whispering. Are we listening? And through our visuals, are we helping people to see him? I hope this inspires you to pray and seek how God would lead your church into moments of silence. And along the way, let’s strive to keep the Creator, not our creativity, the center of worship.
Stephen Proctor is a Son of the King. Illuminator. Visual Worship Curator. Neo-Liturgical VJ. Missionary of Beauty. Pilgrim on the Canterbury Trail. Adventure Seeker. Coffee Wanderer. Find out more about him on his website illuminate.us.