The pattern of God in worship
Rod Dreher shares this essay at First Things by Christopher Alexander. In it Alexander argues that architecture discloses something of God’s nature and of our nature. He shares, in a somewhat tedious fashion, the evolution of his understanding of pattern and its presence in architecture.
Concerning God he notes,
All this has a unique ability to point to the reality of God. In theory, other disciplines such as ethics might seem to have more claim to illuminate discussion of God. But the tangible substance of architecture, the fact that in good architecture, every tiny piece is (by definition) suffused with God, either more or less, gives the concept of God a meaning essentially translated from the beauty of what may be seen in such a place, and so allows it to disclose God with unique clarity. Successful architecture ultimately leads us to see God and to know God. If we pay attention to the beauty of those places that are suffused with God in each part, then we can conceive of God in a down-to-earth way. This follows from an awareness in our hearts, and from our active effort to make things that help make the Earth beautiful.
Dreher connects Alexander’s reflection to Christian theology, especially the theology of worship:
What he’s talking about here is sacramentalism, and how the divine, transcendent order is expressed (or fails to be expressed) in the creations of man. He’s talking about structures that lead to wholeness and integration, both in individuals and communities — and this inevitably means existing in harmony with God.
Matter matters. Having just read this, I am wondering to what extent we can apply his insights to the architecture of Christian worship. Which forms are better at doing what worship is supposed to do? For Christians, worship should not merely expressive, but is also formative in that it should lead us to experience God, and something of His nature and being, so that we can become more like Him. Expressions of the same pattern may change across eras and places, but the basic forms should manifest, right?
Worship is supposed to be a formative act, as Dreher notes. And for that reason, what we do in worship is quite significant. Our worship oughtn’t simply to be a matter of taste–you like classical, I like easy listening. When we are baptized into Christ we are baptized into a community that is bigger than we are, one that spans the centuries and has established ways of doing, being, and believing.
We ought to willingly submit to this pattern knowing that it is a significant influence and a God-ordained means by which to shape our souls for faithful Christian living in a broken world.