The Language of Praise: how we sing is how we see

In the old Newtonian paradigm, we perceived a billiard ball universe. A closed system machine that was predictable. That paradigm was so set, that we didn’t even bother to ask which billiard cues were hitting which balls.

Now that we live in a post-Einsteinian world, we know that energy is more complex, more openly interconnected, and less blunt. 

As children of the Christian household, many of us have begun to see through this cosmic lens, but in doing so, our sense of devotion can be thrown off kilter. A shift must take place, if we are to recapitulate into deeper love, and a lived experience of the presence of the Lover. 

This shift must include our worship practices.

To begin, I acknowledge the beauty shining through our Christian tradition. This suffering beauty that I find in Jesus is what keeps me on this path.

However, it must be said, that through the influence of Augustine’s personal shame, and astute theological capacity, which mixed the cocktail of Manichaeism, Platonism, and one version of Christianity, we’ve landed up in a spiral of homogenization that has had dire effects at the level of culture, language, species, and ecosystems. 

It could be argued that scientific materialism is the result of two things. One, the understandably desperate need to be rid of the “church and state”. And two, Christianity’s influence on language itself. Baked into our very words is the notion that we are separated from God, and that the flesh is rubbish. 

This notion has had a hidden influence on the view that we live in a mechanical universe, and that we ourselves are machines.

I remember once hearing a Christian lecturer warning of an uprising of “neopaganism”. And it wasn’t until I experienced deep healing in nature that I realized this may have been what he was worried about.

Part of my journey has been to not only step back, but also journey through, my Christian tradition. To reconcile areas that hurt me. To notice the rich beauty when I see it. To confess the Church’s many sins. To heal in my body, and my broken heart.

This has not stopped me from going beyond my Christian roots into my pre-Christian heritage. To see the beauty and the hardships and colonization of my Celtic and Slavic ancestors. To begin seeing through their eyes.

Today, the hubris of technocracy and geoengineering pose a grave threat to our planet. But any design that divides the field does. Even the design of worship. 

How we sing, is how we see. 

Worship is how we tell the story of our relationship to God. But behind the shape of that story, is the story of our relationship to everyone, and everything else. 

By our fruits we are known.

One of the most devastating results of “Augustine’s cocktail” being at the root of our orthodoxy, (quite possibly more than Jesus himself), is the ensuing centuries of persecution toward the indigenous perception of animism. That this view is “idolatrous.”

I do not think the early Christians saw it this way. 

Let’s draw attention to the ways in which Christian worship has historically overlooked its own idolatrous behaviour

Studying the roots of Christianity’s arrival in my own ancestral heritage, (Scottish, Polish, English), I began to research the 43AD Roman invasion of Britain. 

First, I was struck by how likely it was that the very first introduction of Jesus to the British Isles might have been in whispers, from foreign slave to local slave, in the shadows of a Roman-occupied mine. 

Next, I was struck by how long it took Rome to conquer the Britannic tribes, and that the siege on the Temple of Claudius, among many long-fought battles, was led by the matriarch warrior Boudica.

The foundations of the Temple of Claudius are found under Colchester Castle today, and in the 4th century, it was renovated for Christian use.

There has been a misunderstanding of the intent of the gospel writers, who wrote in the agonizing aftermath of war that resulted in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. If the gospel writers were bringing Caesar down by raising up the Kenotic One, by raising up the poverty of God in Jesus, this was quickly inverted when worship spaces were erected.

When Caesar dies, he becomes a god. You erect a temple in his name. You worship his perfection. You declare him victorious. And you praise him “for” things. Not “with” things. 

Imagine if praise was with all else, instead of for all else. We might not have even had the “doctrine of discovery” if we had been praising with, instead of for.

It fascinates me to no end that the Temple of Claudius, the very location where British tribespeople were crucified, became the foundation for one of the first buildings in Britain to be converted to Christian use.

Here is the hidden idolatry of our tradition. 

We have been on the journey of Truth and Reconciliation, awakening out of a paradigm whose roots lie in the unhealed wounds of our own heritage. When Roman uniformity first stepped onto British soil and saw my ancestors, they called them “savages. And they saw acquisition. Then, when the closed system orthodoxy of our Christian tradition set in, the Celtic Christians and Druids were labeled “nature worshippers”. 

If nature is sacred, you can’t own it. Better to theologize justifications for our plundering. 

But notice wherever there is the most stunning beauty within the Catholic tradition—the Rhineland Mystics, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, etc. What they have in common is this mystical understanding of the connectedness of all things. The incarnation. 

Thomas Merton said, “for the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness.” 

To see the fruits of anti-matter theology, just sink beneath the surface of your day, and let our living planet show you her fissures. Sit in silence with God-who-would-be-whole, and hear the agonizing, impossible stretch of unfathomable love. 

Aside from the underlying need to justify objectification, these fruits come from a genuine fear of conflating Creator with Creation. But that fear is rooted in binary seeing. 

Wisdom teacher and Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault says that Christianity is “a ternary swan in a binary duck pond.” 

From a ternary perspective, the self-emptying of Creator into Creation is not difficult to perceive. We can have both Walter Brueggemann’s “scandal of the particular,” and the scandal of the web of the incarnate universe.

How about lateral praise? We find it in the Psalms, where the whole of enjoined creation praises the Maker. It is found in the healings of Jesus. Spittle, soil, mud, praying to Abba, healing. 

Our early ancestors, and indigenous healers today, would never attempt a healing with their own small egoic self. Neither did Jesus. They were situated as part of a great complex whole, that joined in with whole-making.

Poet farmer Wendell Berry says, “there are no unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places.” 

If our worship could reflect that deeper truth, and move beyond the idolatry of triumphant Caesar Jesus, it might shape us into a second naiveté of union with God-who-is-in-all-things.

Nothing less than a seismic shift in how we perceive the Sacred in all else, even in the stones, will evolve Christians out of this growth economy death spiral of domination, objectification, and triumphalism. 

We have to be willing to see the inert idolatry inside our own worship, and get vulnerable enough to sense our tender, beautiful, inner longings for fruit, that would bring a cacophony of life.

Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.



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