Monday, October 31, 2011

Theology 101--Worship

This has been a very fruitful week for me theologically speaking. I am preparing to teach a Bible Study on of all things, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In doing a Bible Study on Amos for the last 2 months, I found that I had not learned enough about Jewish worship practices to understand the underlying theology to the ancient understanding of the Judeo-Christian concept of honoring the Divine and I needed to dig a bit deeper. Of course I went to Walter Bruggemann’s works. His Ancient Hebrew Worship was a good place to start.

Worship in our tradition began as ‘just showing up’. Three times a year there would be a pilgrimage to worship all together. There was nothing you had to believe except the Shema—“Hear. The Lord your God is one.” It was the gathering of the community—the coming together of people for the purpose of being with God that was important. The Qahal Yaveh—the gathering of the people for the express purpose of standing before God characterized the early liturgy of the Hebrew people. It is the biblical understanding of what worship is about.

All too often I find people who say: “ I can worship better sitting alone on the mountainside, or seaside, or wherever”. But they never quite get the point of worship—it is a group thing. It is about coming together with other human beings before God that makes worship sacred—set apart for the Holy One. It is when we, truculent beings that we are, must come together in God’s name and leave all our quarreling, all our grumpiness, all our human pettiness behind that we find the shalom of God. It is our greatest offering. It is the most precious gift we have to offer God and we cannot do it alone.

Now that I am retired I don’t have to go to Church. But I try not to miss services. It is when I am most alive. To come together with others in the name of Christ is truly a joy for me. I don’t care if the service is high, low or in-between. It can be any of those and be dry as a bone or as alive as the body of the individuals there makes it. I have found wonderful worship in the small and the great places of worship in the world just because there were others there who were single-mindedly there to be before God. Was God in that place more than God is on the solitary mountain retreat? No. But I was there with others who wanted to stand before God too.

That mere coming together with others demands from me a kind of ethical response that sitting under a tree on the mountainside does not. It demands of me a willingness to live within the conventions of the community. I must act in ways that being alone does not. It calls me to a kind of mindfulness of the others around me—an awareness and compassion for others that my solitary prayer does not. It gets me out of myself and while I am focused on God, I am also mindful of the whole of humanity represented by those sitting in the pew.

When I was in the convent one of the more profound experiences of community was going to the chapel for meditative prayer (a silent and profoundly individual hour of prayer before Matins or Morning Prayer) with the entire community sitting silently in their pews. Nothing was said. No one caught the other’s eye; there was not even an acknowledgement of the other’s presence. But it was the community gathered before God, all wrestling with whatever personal or communal issues interiorly. We were alone but we were all together for the same purpose--to give thanks, petition for ourself or others, or merely stand in the presence of God in awe.  That hour of daily intense community formed me in faith and compassion.  It formed me even when I was restive or sleepy (after all it WAS 4:30am!).  But it formed me in a way that made me more mindful of my responsibilities to the women in my community, the people with whom I was in contact each day and my place in the whole scheme of God's saving grace.

Humans are gregarious creatures by nature. We are not a solitary animal such as the cheetah. And if there is anywhere we learn more of what it means to be with God, to take upon ourselves those God-like characteristics of loving-kindness and compassion, it needs to be in our worship. Worship has to do with my offering to God that which is most profoundly mine—my will. It is in worship that I can practice the progress to live into the image of God in whom I am made.

Worship is not just a service that makes ME feel good. Worship is a process that calls me from my baser selfishness to live more as God would have me live. It requires me to pray cheek-by-jowl with those that I may not even like or even quarreled with the day before. And that is why worship is such an important part of our faith. We cannot ignore those around us, those who are even on the periphery of society if we are to truly offer to God our ‘bounden duty and worship.’

As we come out of this “time of anger” in the world and especially the Church, I know that it is through the gathering of the people of faith that we will once again be the “Qahal Yaveh”. I await Diana Butler Bass’s new book to see how she finds worship in this new Reformation. Because worship is what we human’s do in the face of the Holy. And we do it together because that is where we must—call it God’s desire for us, call it a natural inclination—whatever. But it is where we are the most alive. It is where we know how inextricably we are part of that great Holiness of God. It is where we can touch the totally “otherness of God” and the infinite inwardness of humanity and we too can utter “Hear! The Lord your God is One.”

1 comment:

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

what a beautiful reflection... i had to come back to it several times to "soak" it in!