Friday, March 05, 2004

What is Worship?

A comment the other day got me to thinking about how I understand worship. To be quite honest, I often feel like my perspective is becoming the minority view. That doesn't mean it is wrong, though, does it? Unpopular, maybe, but not necessarily wrong.

I have always understood worship to be our offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgivings to God. Period. It's not a meeting. It's not a class. It's not about fellowship. It's not even about having a "spiritual experience." It's not about us at all. It's about God.

Out of all of creation, we know of one creature that is conscious of the existence of a Creator. Sometimes, I think that is why I exist; to offer praise and thanksgiving to God on the behalf of a silent creation. That is my role in the cosmos.

Part of the offering of thanksgiving is to participate in God's transformation of this world. I understand that means ushering new people into the kingdom. And, I understand that having innovative and inspiring worship, that offers powerful "spiritual experiences," accessible teachings, and a strong feel of community is important if we expect new folks to stick around. It's a good idea to address felt needs, as long as they don't replace real needs. People who are new to worship are expected to bring with them a consumer mentality. Wanting the biggest bang for the buck, asking "What have you done for me lately?" is not unusual. But, if this kind of thinking is allowed to become the primary focus of worship, my experience is that something quite important can become lost. We have put the focus on the community, and taken it off of God.

So, when someone tells me, "I'm just not being fed in our worship," I bite my tongue, and say nothing. What I want to say is. "Guess what? It's not about you." But that would be too harsh, I suppose.

Yes, I think we are to offer the best of our creativity, music and art to God in our worship. But too often, this becomes a performance, with people playing to people. In my tradition, about 50 years ago, we started pulling our altars away from the wall, so the celebrant could face the people. Some days I wonder about the wisdom of that move. Now the temptation is for the celebrant to begin making eye contact with the congregation during the Eucharist prayers. It can become a dialogue between people, with God assigned the role of passive observer, at best. My understanding is that the celebrant is but a conduit, and so is to be transparent; one reason among others for the vestments; they take away the individuality. When the altar is against the wall, the celebrant faces the same way as the people, with his or her back to the people. The focal point is God, with the celebrant being a transparent representative of the people.

Quite often some kind of teaching, fellowship and some form of spiritual experience will occur during worship. But they are icing on the cake. When I enter worship with clarity about who I am, and whose I am, I know my place in the kingdom. I am the one who offers praise and thanksgiving to God on the behalf of a silent creation. The role requires sacrifice, as I have to set aside my own needs; I have to take the focus off of me. But dying to self, as an offering to God, is the way of this kingdom. As Francis would say, "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

J.

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere
to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels,
and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn
to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.


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