Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 5, 2011

Sacred Storytelling/Spoken Word as Alternatives to Music in Worship

Movie poster for Murder in the Cathedral

Image via Wikipedia

Whoop whoop! I just found out today that the upcoming Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina is planning a high-profile spoken word stage.

Whether or not I can finagle one of the prime 12-minute evening slots, still this is a very good sign — that the Emerging Church is finally thinking creatively about group worship and personal spirituality. I’ve been grandstanding about this issue for 20+ years, how in most churches –regardless of denomination or even interfaith/cultural tradition– if people ain’t singing or preaching, they ain’t praising God. Well, them that comes by here at Marking Time know better, don’t we?

Sure, in most churches there’s the occasional liturgical dance or little gospel drama, particularly around the holidays. But when’s the last time a major work of narrative complexity and multi-modal expression was trotted out to expand our minds and hearts for half an hour on your average Sunday morning?

I’m a big fan of T.S. Eliot, for example, and I find myself wondering when’s the last time anyone developed and performed his verse play Murder in the Cathedral (about St. Thomas a’ Beckett) within the Christian community, rather than the dried-up academics who stole old Mr. Eliot away from us long ago.

Any decent preacher or teacher will tell you it is the real stories, with flesh-and-blood people –along with the whole-brained, left-handed poems that work with symbols rather than theological concepts — that most often cut to the heart and soul of watchers, listeners, and learners. Facts have their place, as do the traditional fields of homiletics and music. But those specialists ought to step aside more often to let us weirdos run the show now and then.

You just never know how the Holy Spirit dances, unless you make room for Her to move.


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