A favourite CD track of mine is of a congregation singing in full-throated worship at adagio tempo led by Terry McAlmon in one of his contemplative songs:
‘Oh, the glory of your presence!
We your temple give you reverence.
So, arise to your rest [see Psalm 132:8, 14; 2 Chronicles 6:41]
And be blessed by our praise,
As we glory in your embrace –
As your presence now fills this place.’
My spirit responds from the initial ‘Oh!’ How rich is the English language in vocabulary suitable for expressing outbursts of the emotions of true contemplative adoration. Yet even beyond George Whitefield’s golden phrases in his preaching, one listener remarked on the powerful unction with which he moved his soul on uttering that short word Oh.
In the recording, Terry is heard saying, ‘Let your presence fall, Lord!’ This reminds me of the debate around the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship’s practice of ‘soaking’ prayer reported in the magazine ‘Christianity’ entitled ‘Real Life, Real Faith in a Real World’.. Roger Harper the writer commented on their use of the phrase ‘the presence of the Lord’ as something that Jesus sends. ‘Instead of looking to see Jesus with us as we sit or lie quietly, people are led to expect that Jesus will send from heaven a special atmosphere call “his presence” – the coming of the Holy Spirit in a palpable way.’
Whatever! Thankfully, the Lord can answer honest praying even if the theology is considered imperfect by some critics. Rebecca, an older member of an independent charismatic church, is quoted describing her experience like this:
‘Our leader opened his front room and put on a CD of quiet worship. He invited the Holy Spirit to come and I sat quietly in a comfortable chair. Once, I was sitting very relaxed when I sensed God say “Martha”. I knew just what he meant. I hadn’t chosen the better part as Mary had. Then I saw I was tapping at an old farmhouse door. I walked in the back of the scullery where the servants would work. The walls were stone, glistening and running with cold dampness. I said, “Why am I standing here?” “That’s you,” God said. “You let the cares and anxieties stay with you until they seep into your innermost being.” I was then led out of the scullery. There was a beautiful room with a large table spread with every kind of food. God said, “This is always there for you to come to, but you choose the back kitchen.” We moved onto a sitting room where there was a tremendous sense of space. I drew back. The voice said gently, “I’m always here, waiting for you.” I thought that was the end. But there was another room, even larger, with a bright crystal chandelier reflecting in the polished wooden floor. As a girl I had never been allowed to go to dances; that was something we Christians didn’t do. Now I was dancing in the ballroom with Jesus and it was amazing. I’m 78 and enjoying life more than ever.’
I keep that picture in mind when I sing that penultimate line: ‘as we glory in your embrace’ – of old Rebecca being spun around by her heavenly Lover in the grand waltz of redemption, her blood-bought gown swirling around her as she leans back to glide again along the polished timbers, feeling every inch a princess.