This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.
There is something within each of us that is awed by the presence of beauty. I believe it’s a flashing glimpse of our desire for the transcendence of heaven. –Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas
I picked up my guitar, dormant for more than a year, forgotten in the back of my closet, broken string, out of tune, almost unfamiliar to my fingers. I carefully fixed the broken string, tuned the instrument, and felt the strings bite into the tips of my fingers as they felt their way through the familiar chords. I pulled the sheaf of worship choruses out of the case, and very slowly made my way through them, strumming and singing. Then something happened.
I was transported.
I was transported to a tiny camp, barely a half acre of land in rural Nebraska, to a campfire on the last night of camp where the distinct odor of a rural Nebraska farm combined with the smoke from the flames as we held hands through 15 verses of Kumbaya.
I was transported to a college gymnasium-turned-chapel 3 times a week, filled with students with arms raised, earnestly singing “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts.”
I was transported to a cathedral in Israel, artwork and candles covering every wall, floor, and ceiling, air heavy with the smoke of incense and candles and the breath of countless pilgrims.
I was transported to a living room in South Dakota, where the coffee was strong, the hugs were tight, and the conversation about faith ran deep.
That moment of worship brought back the sights, sounds, scents, flavors, and touch of a thousand moments of worship. I was transported to the very throne room of God.
What is it
The Sensate pathway is loving God through the senses. It means participating in worship not just by hearing and thinking, but also by seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting.
Worship through sound can include music. Worship through smell can include incense, scents attached to memories such as the campfire smell I mentioned before. Worship through touch can include tactile reminders of lessons, such as a stone you may carry in your pocket to remind you of Jesus the rock of salvation, or the touch of the guitar strings or other instruments. Worship through sight can include art. Worship through taste can include the elements of communion, the elements of a Passover seder (sweet and bitter flavors are purposefully chosen and consumed to remind the worshiper of the sweetness of God and the bitterness of slavery).
Worship through the senses can bring a profound appreciation of beauty which arouses humility, as you begin to understand your own limitation for creating great art, then it brings dignity when you understand the level of greatness you actually can create, and finally the beauty of art can produce a different worldview, “The unworthy sinks, the true and the good emerge and grow” (Sacred Pathways, p. 64). And finally, an encounter with beauty brings you back to the real world–but as a changed person.
Ezekiel, through his prophetic writings, uses vivid imagery, incorporating multiple sensations in his depiction of the presence of God leaving and later returning to the temple. He feels a wind, he sees a flash of lightning surrounded by brilliant light, fantastic creatures, and a magnificent and stunning throne of saphire (Ezekiel 1:4, 5-14, 26-27). He hears the sound of wings like the roar of rushing waters and a soud rumbling (1:24; 3:12-13). He is then asked to eat a scroll that tastes sweet (3:1-3).
Another sensate is Henri Nouwen, a priest and author, who was moved and inspired by the sight of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal, “It’s beautiful, more than beautiful…I can’t tell you what I feel as I look at it, but it touches me deeply.”
Actions and Reflections
To experience the sensate pathway I carved out a couple worship experiences that incorporated the senses. I lit some incense, pulled out my guitar, and sang some simple worship choruses, combining smell, sound, and the feel of the guitar strings under my finger. Another time I put some worship music in my earbuds and began to draw, combining sight and sound.
This was an incredibly moving spiritual pathway for me, and possibly the main way that I connect with God. It was amazing to engage more than one sense, more than one part of my brain, as I worshiped.
I plan to keep my guitar in a more accessible place so I can play it more often. I also plan to continue with my drawing–both the guitar and the art I don’t think of as a skill I would necessarily share with the world yet (I suppose I would be better at both if I practiced) but both have been useful in my spiritual life and emotional life.