Thus we rejoice when we unexpectedly find ourselves worshipping. But there is also place for the deliberate, labored consideration of values, whether they be themes Beethoven nurtured into the Fifth Symphony or the relation of First Amendment freedom of the press with Six Amendment guarantees of jury impartiality. Conscious and intended worship seeks to name our gods—to identify our values—even if they be such only for the never-ending moment. Hidden and unacknowledged gods can rule our behavior without our knowing it. Naming our gods and taking responsibility for assessing their worth enlarges our freedom. When we find we hold conflicting values, we may be alienated—unconnected—from ourselves and each other. Worship is the healing of such splits.
Regular worship, a continuing reconsideration of values, as our lives and society change, prevents ossification and idolatry by guarding us from confounding the proximate with the transcendent. The discipline of deliberate worship thus is a source of expansion and freedom. Giving thanks even for the unknown, we can in high awareness choose the ways of growth, proportion, and flow.
Work of the People
The church offers the discipline of deliberate worship. A community of faith, the church adds the dimension of human life to worship in nature. Private and public worship enhance each other. The presence of others who challenge and enrich our lives with competing and supporting agendas and priorities gives us additional eyes through which to see the universe—to reconnect us to ourselves, one another and the cosmos. Public worship then is not a presentation; it is involvement. It is not a lecture, concert or program. Liturgy means “the work of the people.”
Experience, Not Explanation
Liturgy is an immediate yet eternal experience which demands the participation of everyone in the religious community. It is not a simulation of some other experience, like theater. It is not merely an explanation of the way things are or ought to be. Liturgy transcends various styles or levels of interpretation since it is a prior unity of experience. For example, two persons taking part in mass may have different explanations of if of the world. One may understand things quite literally; the other may give a mythical or metaphorical interpretation. The important fact is that they are both taking part in the same event, a sign of their human bondedness to one another and all life. Liturgy thus permits greater freedom than do rhetorical injunctions. While exegesis often divides, liturgy encourages “unity in diversity.” This does not mean intellectual precision is unimportant. Theological homework is required. A “worship arts” committee, more dance and drama, a new organ or a poetical sermon without transcendent reference will fail to meet the deepest human needs. Nevertheless openness to the experience of transcendence is more important than a precise analysis of what is not.
Worship, like sex is a supreme form of play. Play liberates us from the work mentality that seeks (at least functional) absolutes by which to judge our activities. In play, in worship, we need no reason outside life to give life meaning. Some attend church as an obligation, to justify or earn their existence. Such an attitude profanes life’s character as a gift, unearned and unearnable. In worship we celebrate with wonder and gratitude the meaning of that gift. The consequent responses we seek to make are not to earn life, but to revere it in centered faithfulness.
Next: Worship in the Age
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Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.
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