It’s so easy to slip into the trap of thinking that “worship” = “singing.” Don’t get me wrong—music is a popular and powerful avenue to worship, and I, for one, love being in worship bands and choirs! But worship also takes many other forms. Consciously broadening our definition of “worship” (an act that can itself become a form of worship) helps us to broaden our experience of the great richness and beauty of our Creator, leading us in turn to more and deeper praise of Him.
In this YouTube clip, performance artist Brian Daniel silently demonstrates one of the primary ways that he worships. I’m fascinated as I watch him transform a piece of corrugated paper with only his hands and a single can of black paint. Daniel’s choice to use his hands instead of a brush heightens the impact of the performance: nothing separates his body from the paint and the paper. (As a graduate student in English, I find this especially helpful, since I focus so much on words that I tend to forget physical aspects of worship.) Daniel isn’t holding back, trying to keep his hands clean. The way he throws his whole body into his worship visually reminds me of holistic spirituality.
Daniel’s costume reveals another important part of his worship: humility. We never see his whole face in this clip, because he turns his back toward the audience so he—and we—can look at the image taking shape. His dark clothes allow him to blend in with the constantly changing black lines on the paper. His movements are graceful, not self-conscious, reinforcing (and being reinforced by) the music. These choices reflect a desire that God be the one to draw attention here, not Daniel.
The finished painting is powerful, but the process of getting there is a worship experience in its own right. The performance models a crucial aspect of process spirituality: we don’t have to wait until the end to appreciate the beauty of what the artist/Artist is crafting now. Instead of seeing a static picture, we wait and watch in anticipation of what is taking shape. The image of Jesus becomes more and more clear. Slowly, we see him reach out toward us, as if he were moving and extending his arm at this very moment. It is said that Italian Renaissance sculptor Michaelangelo described his work as freeing his sculptures from the marble encasing them. Similarly, in this video an image of Jesus seems to reveal itself in the corrugated paper as Daniel works.
While all of this is going on, Michael W. Smith stands by and offers a strong and passionate rendition of “Above All.” In 2002, Smith won a Dove Award for this song, but during this particular performance he, like Daniel, dresses in black and allows himself to fade into the background. Meanwhile, the simplicity of his song and its instrumentation both inspires and frees the audience to think about the Christ-narrative being portrayed, rather than the people portraying it. Together, these two artists point to the value of corporate worship. The combination of their work illustrates how beautifully different worship-gifts can support and enhance each other. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, as both seek to glorify God above all.