Monday, October 31, 2011
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.
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.
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.”