In which I am a tree

I attend a mainline church. I fit there, more or less, but it’s not about me and my comfort level anyway. So most Sunday mornings, I escape from beneath a week’s worth of baggage and head to church. The worship service is a blended style, one that suits both the happy-clappy folks among us and the more traditional Holy, Holy, Holy folks. (Whether it suits The Almighty I’ve no idea.)

Personality-wise, I’m one of the happy-clappers, but some of the music aimed at my kind really freaks me out. We dare to sing phrases such as show me your glory and send down your power. I tend to skip over such phrases, and as the people around me lend their voices to these prayers, I’m thinking holy shit, people! do you have any idea what you’re saying?!

Surely if God blasted us with the full wattage of his glory the flesh would melt from our bones and ooze all over our blended-worship hymnals (I’m picturing some Raiders of the Lost Arc gore here). And seriously, send down your power? The whole world would be crushed.

Maybe the song-writers really meant just give us a wee glimpse, God, but even then, I’d be leery. It’s not that I think God’s just sitting up there waiting for an invitation to zap us (if he was going to zap us, he wouldn’t need an invitation). I really believe he’s good and loving. I believe he’s big on grace. So why do these lyrics give me pause?

The thing is, I think they make God too small. They feel a little too comfortable, a little too casual, as if we’ve forgotten that God can not be contained. As if we’ve forgotten who it is we’re worshipping. In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote about how, when we attend church, we ought to wear crash helmets and be lashed to our pews. That makes complete sense to me. And yet, I’m left trying to reconcile my inclination to strap on a helmet with my happy-clappy need to praise Jesus.

There’s a banner at the front of my church with an image of a tree engulfed in flame. The tree is burning, yet it’s beautiful, green, and alive. The words Nec Tamen Consumebatur are written above the tree. I believe this translates to yet not consumed. This morning as I looked at that banner, I thought, I am that tree. All of us here—we’re that tree.

We are the burning bush. We can dare to invoke God’s presence, dare even to call down his glory and his power, and when it comes, somehow, miraculously, we are not consumed. This is only possible because God is big on grace. Big on glory and power, yes – incredibly so – but bigger still on grace.

So, maybe next time I’ll sing those words, or maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll stand in awe of my dangerous God and his exorbitant grace.

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