In the Old Testament, just about every time someone had an experience with God, they built an altar there. They didn’t believe God was everywhere. For them, God lived above, up in the clouds somewhere, and had certain dwelling places that God frequented on earth. Let me give you a few examples. Moses and the Israelites traveled through the wilderness with the Tent of Meeting where Moses and God met “face-to-face”, the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem, was where the high priest (and only the high priest) met with God. Jacob set up a stone monument where he had the dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder and he called the place “Bethel” meaning “House of God”. These were not only places for God to dwell, but for mortals to convene, or be close to God. They were places of worship.
So, this got me thinking. We understand God differently than they did thousands of years ago. We don’t believe (at least I don’t think the people in this community do) that God has to have a dwelling place when visiting earth. Did you know that Catholics can’t get married outside of the church because (historically) that is where God was. Instead, we understand God to be everywhere we are at all times. So, why do we worship??
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I looked on-line and the overwhelming answers to “Why do we worship?” were these:
- God is awesome
- God alone is worthy of worship and devotion
- To show our loyalty and adoration
- To show gratitude for forgiving our sins and saving us
- We were commanded to
- Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: “We were planned for God’s pleasure so your first purpose is to offer real worship.”
Those answers just don’t work for me. I don’t believe in a narcissistic God with an inflated ego who created humans so they would worship Him. Nor do I believe in the Santa Claus God who is watching us – to see if we’re following the rules (including worshiping every week) – then making his list and checking it twice to see who gets into heaven. I don’t believe worship is required. I don’t believe we need to prove that we love God, if the Divine Spark is in each of us (as I believe) then God knows my heart. So, why do we worship? Why do I lead worship? Believe me, I’ve asked myself this over and over again.
For right now, it comes down to this. I believe the Divine is in me and in you, it is the very essence of our deepest truest self. Because of this, we are not alone in the universe, but connected to all that is. However, forgotten this and become distracted from this reality. We get caught up in our egos, our fears, our annoyances, our arguments, our struggles, and the daily grind of life, and that becomes the only reality. We get caught up in the societal cliche’ “every man for himself” and believe in independence and individualism to such extent that we’ve forgotten the common thread of our humanity. Worship is a place and time to remember who we really are (if only for a few moments) and to re-member the scattered distracted pieces of ourselves. This journey to our authentic selves is the spiritual journey – to love ourselves, heal ourselves and become whole. It is also the most difficult journey any of us will take. In worship we take that journey together. We learn and grow together, we support one another. And together the journey is less scary.
James Luther Adams said, “Church is a place where you get to practice what it means to be human.”
We often hear the phrase, “I’m only human” as an excuse for why we’ve messed up, why we’re not perfect. Oddly enough, that makes being human bad, whereas to recover our humanity is really to remember the Divine within us. We use ego to define humanity, but ego is false humanity.
Worship is a container for our experience of the Divine. It is a place to negotiate our spiritual journeys with grace and dignity. It’s a container to immerse ourselves into to reconnect with the Divine. A container to hold our experiences of the Divine.
Yes, I have my more cynical moments where I wonder what this is all for. But when I think about the most profound worship experiences I’ve had, I don’t remember what was said or sung, I remember the feeling. The feeling of connecting – to myself, to God and to everyone and everything. I’m not ready to do without that place of grounding and remembering.
Love & Light,