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Thursday, January 15, 2009
Training Sight to See the Beatific Vision
Here's a good quote for Epiphany:

Second, the church's assemblies mst again become places of seeing. We are told by Scripture that in the Kingdom this world's dimness of sight will be replaced by, as the old theology said it, 'beatific vision.' It is a right biblical insight that God first of all speaks and that our community with him and each other [and it is of first importance] that we hear  him and speak to him. It does not, however, follow, as Protestantism has made it follow, that to listen and speak we must blind ourselves. In this age, accurate hearing is paired with dimmed vision: it is precisely a promised chief mark fo the Eschaton that accurate hearing will then be accompanied by glorious sight. And in this age, the church must be the place where beatific vision is anticipated and trained. (Robert Jensen, How the World Lost its Story. p.135. (essay in collection).

This thought invites a lot of other thoughts and inquiries.  

1. Would you consider your worship gatherings places of "seeing?" Most worship gatherings I go to these days settle to be places of feeling and thinking. 

2. How are we cultivating and training our people to "see" and to "behold" the 'beatific' vision? 

3. What is the 'beatific' vision? 

4. How are we utilizing media and electronic imagery to inspire and train this kind of sight?  How do we use such means to "substitute" for this kind of sight? 

5. What are the limitations? 

6. How might we be misusing electronic media and imagery? 

7. What if one of the main questions we pondered about our worship experiences was, "What did I (we) see?"

8. Your question here?

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posted by John David Walt | at 1/15/2009 03:00:00 AM



Blogger Joshua Andrew Smith said...

I think it's important in hearing that we are then heeding. That's the richness of meaning in "shema" that's missing from our translation "to hear." Not merely hearers, but doers, right? Likewise, I think our "seeing" is not merely apprehending, but also gaining insight.

I'm not convinced (nor did you suggest) that your trichotomy (feeling, thinking, seeing) is comprehensive. If by "seeing" you mean visually receiving, then I don't know if it belongs in a list with thinking and feeling, which are more what you do with that which you receive. If by "seeing" you mean gaining insight, then I'm not sure how one could "see" separate from thinking or feeling.

Did I miss something?

12:31 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

thanks Josh.

i like this connection you make between sight and insight. I don't think I am talking about mere visual reception. however, i am also not talking about a primarily rational process.

consider the psalmist-- one thing i ask of the Lord, one thing I seek, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.

To "gaze." I think this approaches what it means to "behold." mere visual reception won't get it done. this is why a blind person would be capable of it, and a seeing person incapable. this is why religious scholars miss it and children get it. here is where good worship trains sight.

we have such a functional approach to virtually everything we do, including our worship. we want to get something out of our gazing-- we want purpose-driven gazing. it must lead to a bigger idea or an insight or a profound thought or a sharp application. I don't mean to discount these things, but they are all derivative. (i'm not sure i'm making any sense at all-- but you've got me to thinking).

Only worship can inspire a kind of "seeing" that leads to "gazing" that becomes "beholding." What if this is what worship actually is. Can feeling and thinking be separated from this process-- i'm sure not.

I think this is my point. So much of our worship design and leading is geared not toward cultivating sight or vision but in trying to get people to think and feel. Could this be part of the rift between traditional and contemporary worship. The former is more geared toward thinking and the latter toward feeling. The former measures worship by rational comprehension and the latter by emotional presence. one focuses more on content-- the other on mood. certainly i'm overgeneralizing what can be highly nuanced, but you see my point in drawing the contrast.

Blending worship "styles" attempts to bring all these elements together into the same order and so make connection with the various orientations and desires of people. (i.e. something for everyone)

But what if there is another way? What if "seeing" God were our only (one thing I ask) aspiration and we left the rest up to the Spirit? Help me wrestle with the practical dimensions of this question. What if we trusted holy thinking and holy feeling and holy doing to derive from this one thing? We would be much less in control of shaping the "thought, feeling and doing" of the people, but would that be so bad. We would be relinquishing that control to God. Might our response to revelation become less scripted or contrived and more fluid and inspired? (i.e. Isaiah's vision in ch.6)

Help me Josh-- you've given me a pain on the brain as my friend, Billy Abraham likes to say.

btw-- love your blog.

8:52 AM EST  
OpenID chaddbrooks said...

I think that we maybe need to quit approaching "church" as we do school. Rational thought process being the primary goal just makes it out to be a drag....

What does jump out to me (JD we have had conversations about this) is the relationship between technology and worship. Coming from a background that always had the newest toys and innovative practices (in definition-in practice it meant finding a new transition in power point), I am naturally cautious about making church out to look like the blue man group is preforming the offertory special.

I think that asking questions regarding the justification of these issues is important.

1. Will this help lead my congregation further into understanding their identification as the people of God? or will it simply shore up the extra-biblical point the pastor is making? (Further questioning into extra-biblical points)>

2. How does this help tell the story of God?

3. Does this require resources which we really can easily afford? can they be used multiple times, or will the sit in storage until the childrens musical in 6 years?

4. Does this continually bring to much attention to one or more people?

These are just a few that I rattled off this morning. The idea of "seeing" seems to be something that is a definite part of classical mystagogy, with the church Fathers encouraging sight that is multi-dimensional. In regards to rationality really should be thrown out of the window when it comes to Christian understanding and expression, because it is in the mysterious acts of the Church that we begin to even think of the things of God. I am not trying to knock the rational, but instead allow for what God really is.

10:39 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

chad I particularly like your assessment that we need to stop treating worship like school. that's exactly right. you need only draw out the diagram of a church setting on your paper alongside the diagram of a lecture hall setting and you will see the strange resemblance.

even moving the furniture around would help wouldn't it?

12:24 PM EST  
OpenID chaddbrooks said...

Their have been some folk that have those along those lines. Doug Pagitt (of Solomons Porch in Minneapolis) comes to mind first, in his book "Preaching Re-imagined" he describes modern sermoning as "speeching", and directly challenges the lecture model of christian speech. Architecturally, his church has also re-thought the seating model of churches, by meeting in the round (throughout several venue changes) and designing their technology in regards to a more corporate version of "talking" in church.

4:32 PM EST  
Blogger sandra r. said...

These passages of Scripture seem to jump out to me in all of this:
Isaiah 6:9-10/Matt 13:14-15/Acts 28:26-27
'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.'

Isaiah said it, Jesus said it, and Paul said it...

There will be those who choose not to see Him...

I relate everything to His Word, though. The more we seek Him, the more we find Him. If we're going to "see" Him, we have to be looking for Him... right? But then, there's also that balance that JD was referring to - that relinquishing of our control. Still processing a lot of these things...
Also, the more we pour out our hearts out to Him (not in a touchy, feely, emotional way - but adoration, confession, prayers, etc...), the more we fill ourselves with His Word, then the more His truths are revealed to us by the power of His Spirit... There's not a gauge of "seeing", but it's all in the relationship factor - our relationship to Christ...

JD mentioned the contrast between a traditional service to a contemporary service. Over the Holiday break, I was intrigued by the contrast of my previous home church (a mega church with all the bells & whistles for media, praise team, etc...) to visiting my brother's church (soloist singing with a track, choir of about 9 people, preacher that I think didn't understand it was Christmas Eve b/c he seemed bent on preaching the fire & brimstone message...).
Because of trials the past few weeks, I have so wanted to "see" God... At the latter service (my brother's church), it would have been so easy for me to shut down and write off the service... Instead I was encouraged by two verses of Scripture I happened upon in the hymnal when we were instructed to turn to those pages... After being reminded of those verses, I sang those hymns in that little church like I haven't sung in a long time (even compared to singing in a mega church surrounded by a thousand people)...

It just seems to come back to the Light of His Word...

I might be missing the mark, but as I was in these churches in both settings - both the traditional and contemporary, I was wondering what I would do different to help people "see" Christ for all that He is...

Still processing...

3:16 AM EST  
Blogger Joshua Andrew Smith said...

2 Corinthians 3:18 - "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

We become what we behold. We respond to what is revealed. I believe it is true what you said, JD, that perhaps we should simply come together and ask Him to open the eyes of our hearts that we may simply see Him. It is in first receiving the beatific vision that we are then compelled to draw near in ways that are befitting His call: ways that are true worship.

I have seen this happen innumerable times within a typical service with a lecture-type speech and chairs facing forward. I've also seen very creative churches show the people everything but Christ. I think it has less to do with strategic chair placement and more to do with broken-hearted men and women humbly pointing their peers toward the cross every week and in everyday life.

1:33 AM EST  

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