What Does Worship Mean?
Worth, Connection, Order
“Worship” is sometimes narrowly understood as bowing down to some supposed deity. The etymology of the word, however, leads us to a far more significant activity. The root of “worship” is worthship, considering things of worth. “Religion” (religare) means to bind up, to reconnect, to get it all together. Worship is thus the central activity of religion because through worship we reconnect with worth. Worship is a compelling vision of life in its fullness. Its scope, diversity, coherence and power engender the fundamental meanings, values and relations for our lives. Worship centers us. It gives us a perspective that orders the Void, the chaos of unconnected fragments of experience. Through worship we find our connections and take our place in society and the cosmos. Here beholding and becoming are the same.
The Creation and Celebration of Human Values and Meanings
It is fashionable nowadays as “the celebration of life.” This too easily becomes a party or a vague sentiment. Worship is the celebration of life in its depths—intimate, intense, and ultimate. Through worship we discover, enliven, enrich, create, order, enhance, and empower what gives life worth. We experience awe, wonder, flow, fitness, appreciation, refreshment, and commitment.
This does not mean there is an ontological Whole or Absolute Worth. It does not mean that all things actually fit together. On the other hand, worship is not illusory or simply “subjective.” It does mean that worship is the activity that fits things together, that reaches toward a whole as we create ourselves and our world.
One can worship alone, “communing with nature,” in the ritual of a sport or other play, in work and in social action. Worship is not necessarily an orderly, regular calculated process, though it always creates order. Worship is more like falling in love, like being struck with the majesty of Mont Blanc, or like the surprise and gratitude we feel when someone touches us deeply in an unexpected way. For the creation and celebration of values, meanings and relations appears accidental perhaps as often as devised: if directed, then often outside ordinary awareness. The spirit of God, before creation, brooded on the waters before there were even any words. So our spirits hover in the Void, until we discover meanings emerging. Thus Schweitzer came upon “reverence for life,” Einstein formed the Relativity theories, and Mu Ch’i painted his “six Persimmons.” After considerable brooding, each integrated values into a larger whole in a moment of high awareness, of spontaneity and freedom. Such a consideration of worth occurs when the horizontal and the vertical—the mundane and the transcendent—suddenly intersect for us. There we gain awareness; we create a new or renewed order through which the entire universe plays.
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Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.
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