Sometimes life delivers unreservedly classic film set scenarios and clichés. For example, an owl hooting just as I arrive on a dark starry night at the door of the Old ‘Haunted’ Castle where I work. Or the red cloud streaked sunset of December behind the Castle's East Wing as a gentle warm yellow glow filters out through leaded lights – so Kincaid that if it wasn’t real it would be considered naively kitsch. Well, today at church I had one of those unreal moments, too perfect, too stereotypical, and so textbook and clichéd that you’d think I had invented it.
Shortly after I walked late into the foyer on security duty the congregation struck up with one of my favourite carols ‘O Come Emmanuel’. This carol is packed with allusions and imagery taken from the texts of Old Testament history: ‘Ransom captive Israel’, ‘Lonely exile’, ‘Thou rod of Jesse’, ‘Thine advent’, ‘Key of David’, ‘Sinai’s height’, ‘In ancient times did’st give the Law’. As I listened I wondered how many of the congregation connected with a language that to be understood requires a modicum of OT scholarship. After all, this was the church where I had heard on more than one occasion a negative response to having ‘Yet another Bible study’. Anyway, as I had barely finished mulling all this over the next song started, and it turned out to be a quantum leap from the ridiculous to the sublime – no, make that ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’.
The mind often filters, generalises and then forgets the data on which its generalisation have been made, and one is then left in doubt about the validity of the mind’s abstractions because the original protocols aren’t there to check against. Thus, my generalisation that parts of the contemporary church has abandoned erudition (whether Biblical scholarship or science) in favour of the much exalted and sought after ‘there and now’ quasi-sensual God experience or ‘God orgasm’ has sometimes felt a little off the wall. But as this new song struck up I felt vindicated. As if to emphasise the polarity of scholarship versus the ‘God orgasm’, starkly contrasting against the obscure Old Testament lyrics of ‘O come Emmanuel’ still sounding in my mind, steamy allusions to the ‘God experience’ now assaulted my ears: ‘Fill us’, ‘Passion!’, ‘Breathe within’, ‘abandoned to you’ ‘Lord have your way with us’, ‘God fall on us’ ‘More than this!’ all packed into a single song. (Note: More! More! Is an ecstatic cry one hears in some churches – I wonder if one also sometimes hears Yes! Yes! Yes!…?)
In spite of all the pretensions of prophetic insight that Charismatic Christianity has brought to churches nowadays, those churches seem so utterly unconscious of themselves!