I know sometimes I do (I'll wait so you can fill in the appropriate punchline...) In fact, it is how I worship most comfortably, most of the time.
We've known for a long time that the brain has two halves. While it is sometimes overstated, generally each side functions differently and contributes to our whole self (you can read a pretty good summary here):
Left Brain: Words are the primary form of communication in the left brain. It uses logic and reason to nurture the soul. It seeks to find the meaning and explain reality- including God. The left side of my brain is good at this, but it can't experience God. It can't experience anything. To do that, we need the right side of our brain.
Right Brain: This is where creativity and intuition come from. It communicates not with words, but with images and symbols. The senses play a big role for the right side of our brain.This is also the part of the brain that allows us to better experience beauty, mystery and wonder. In fact, there is a fascinating story about a neuroscientist who 'discovered' spirituality only when she had a stroke and the left side of her brain shut down for awhile.
Our Whole Mind in Worship
We need both sides, of course. Both halves are critical if we are going to encounter God and grow in faith. "Wonder" is pretty important for worship (just read the Psalms!). Making sense of our experience of God is pretty important, too. Right Brain, Left Brain; We need both halves if we are going to worship with ALL our mind. That doesn't mean we need to 'shut-down' one side of our brain, but we would do well to help the other side 'catch-up'.
I'm a Left Brain guy and I am most comfortable with Left-Brain worship. I like things that make sense and are logical. I like words. I tend to be suspicious of music unless the words are 'good'. Left brain people like me tend to be uneasy (i.e., we don't know what to do) when we listen to instrumental music. I'm not alone in this. I know, because I get the comments when we have instrumental music in worship or when we can't see/understand the words that are being sung by the choir. I get that.
Opening the Door to Another Part
I also get that there is a whole other part of my brain that isn't affected and engaged when the emphasis isn't on words, logic and teaching. We have been consciously expanding the breadth of worship to include more non-verbal, experiential elements. Silence, instrumental music and abstract art are a few elements we have introduced and expanded. We are going to experiment with this even more this summer with a Worship Workshop, but more about that later.
To be honest, it isn't always comfortable for me. I know it isn't always comfortable for others, too (I do read those comment cards!). It would be far more comfortable to go back to a more logical, verbal and orderly style of worship.
The Point of Worship
But 'comfort' isn't the point of worship. The point of worship is to offer myself- ALL of myself, to God. That means good worship will stretch, grow and challenge me so that I am better able to be a follower of Jesus and live into the Kingdom of God. "Salvation" means to "heal" and "make whole". Bringing the rational and the emotional parts of me together is part of that. Experiencing AND making sense of experience, are both crucial. For more on the interchange between worship and the brain, click here.
I am grateful to people when they can help me bring both sides of my brain to worship. That is why I was struck by something that is in this week's bulletin. Alicia is one of our instrumentalists playing this Sunday. Besides offering her musical gifts, she also offered her explanation of meaning for one of the pieces being played.
Music for Contemplation: “Romanzen” is a title for music implying very personal feelings in describing nature or heroic people (much more than a candlelit dinner).
What I hear when listening to this piece is Schumann's self-portrait of his career struggles and his sometimes manic depression and ill-health. I hear Schumann praying to God (faster clarinet sounds) and God responding (slow, calm piano sounds); then God walking with Schumann and together they do God's work with passion; this conversational prayer and unity of work is repeated until the end when they walk together toward a light.
I did not grow up in a traditional musical household, and I am thankful to my first music teacher Ms. Pippo who recognized my love for music on the recorder at age 10, and my mom who followed her advice and encouraged me as a child to have music in my life. ~ Alicia McCommons
Left Brain, Right Brain; They both belong in worship. Thank, Alicia for connecting them for us this Sunday, so that we can better love God with ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength!