Practising the presence of us

Katrina DowlingMusic2 Comments

Ghent altarpiece angel singers detail

angelic singers depicted on the Ghent Altarpiece

Here’s a problem most of us can relate to if we ever take on a special role in worship, such as reading, acting a tableau or saying a prayer. A novice musician admits: “I have trouble listening to the sermon when there’s something to perform afterwards.”

We don’t want to discover the pleasures of music-making (or acting, or praying, as it may be) in the context of worship only to have it distance us from the very experience of that worship. But we can address the difficulty…

Take a clear look at what is going on when you are not fully present to the service. If the reason for your distraction is that you are:

  • checking that your pages in order
  • checking which piece you are performing today
  • limbering up your fingers for instrumental playing
  • wondering how to pronounce certain words

you are doing preparation. Simply move it to a suitable time prior to the service so you don’t have to do it during the service. You’ll need to be realistic about making a suitable time for your preparation. If you’re not sure exactly how and when to prepare, ask a trustworthy and experienced person for practical guidance.

On the other hand, suppose you have prepared, but you are still distracted. Usually the reason for this kind of distraction is anxiety. One of the best weapons you can use to counter this mental interference is trust. Could you make each of these statements?

  • I trust myself to perform this music (or make this prayer, etc). I’ve prepared in good faith.
  • I trust the other participants to do their part.
  • I trust the musical director (drama director, etc) to choose something we can learn and perform competently.
  • I trust God to make the music (or reading, etc) perfect for God’s purposes in God’s way. It’s not all up to me.

If you resist any of these statements, it could be profitable to look more deeply into what’s causing difficulty for you. Or if you are strongly drawn to some of the statements, you could build on that to calm yourself and focus during the service.

A good way to minimize anxiety during the service is using routines in the immediate lead-up. Popular and effective routines include:

  • doing your favourite warm-up
  • have someone say a blessing for you
  • observe some quiet time just prior to the service

The last item – quiet time – is so effective that it’s worth making sure your preparation does not continue right up to the start of the service. You can also explain, politely, to people who approach you that you need to stay quiet just now and you’ll gladly catch up with them after the service.

Finally, take the pressure off yourself by acknowledging that you might have moments in which you are preoccupied by your particular role in this service, and that’s okay. You might acknowledge it explicitly, imitating Sir Jacob Astley in preparing for battle:[1]

O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget thee, do not forget me.

Which is your battle at the moment – getting prepared or getting clear of anxiety?

[1] The battle of Edgehill, 1642

2 Comments on “Practising the presence of us”

  1. Yes Katrina that is helpful and can be applied to our everyday life . Trust and suitable preparation and believing God looks at intent of heart not our perfectionism. In some situations my anxiety needs strong spiritual help. Thanks Faye

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