Brian Wilcox 'Sunflower'
With my mouth, I will greatly praise Adonai [the Lord],
I will praise Adonai among the people.
Regarding worship, a friend and I spoke, and she told of how many in her sect do not want the mention of worship - this, even though the sect is grounded historically in a strong sense of the need for worship alone and even more with others. I think such distaste for even the word "worship" can arise from three sources: ignorance of the nature of worship, past hurt from within religious community, a subtle to pronounced sense such is old-fashioned and superstitious, an act an intelligent human being would not engage and would be a denial of self-determination. Rather, worship is a response to Something greater than us to which we reply and belong. I find it impossible to be religious or spiritual and not a worshipping being, even while we differ greatly on the nature of worship and What or Whom we worship. Worship is not a debasing act, but an ennobling act. Worship is as natural to the human being as is breathing, while not to worship is as unnatural as refusing to breathe.
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Worship is not an act with an end in itself, worship is an indirect means to contact the Supreme Being, however differently we image Him, Her, That. To one That is "Father," another "Mother," another "Dharmakaya," another "Krishna," another "Shiva," another "Great Spirit," and another "Allah."
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The experience was alarming. As a small child, I attended worship at a small Baptist church. Our worship was quiet - no yelling, arms flailing, jumping about wildly, collapsing to the floor unconscious, or speaking in unknown tongues, like at the local holiness churches. One pastor even injured an attendee by falling on her, after jumping a pew, and persons would fall suddenly to the floor unconscious in what was called "slain in the spirit," and the women so falling would have their bottom torsos covered to keep anyone from seeing up their dresses: all the females, by rule, wore dresses. This night, at this holiness church, an aged man left his pew and entered the center aisle. He ran toward the front yelling and swaying and dancing, once even running into the side of the wooden pew. When he got to the front, he started rapidly jigging. For a Baptist lad, this was a scary business.
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In the mid-90s, I served as interim pastor of a small, rural Baptist church. About this time, I was introduced to the contemplative life and was frequenting an ecumenical community where silence was central. I cherished the new-found prayerfulness of silence. I wanted others to enjoy this too. I introduced the Baptist congregation to some minutes of silence as a prelude to the regular worship ritual. After entering silence, I could sense, by what felt like the energy rebounding from the people toward me, this was not the place for such a practice - not that the congregation could not benefit from it, but they were not prepared for it and likely not welcoming of it. Intentional silence in worship was foreign to this people, and most of the larger religious sect. Intentional silence was not within its style of worship, and that I needed to respect.
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The above two anecdotes speak to the syle of worship. It is important not to confuse style and essence. The inner intent and motions are the heart of devotion, not outer actions. What appears elevated worship might lack the proper inner disposition, while what appears simplistic, even crude or superstitious, might include the heart in the right place - directed to Spirit in genuine, heartfelt devotion.
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A Sufi set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the outskirts of the city, he lay down by the road, exhausted from the journey. He had barely fallen asleep when an irate pilgrim brusquely awakened him. The angry man said, "This is the time when all believers bow their heads toward Mecca, and you have your feet pointing toward the holy shrine. What sort of Muslim are you?" The Sufi did not move; he opened his eyes and said, "Brother, would you do me the favor of placing my feet where they won't be pointing to the Lord?"
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While we choose to adhere to sacred customs and rites, we can become too strict, too concerned about externals and group conformity. We can become critical of others who do not follow our group's particulars. We can consider them less spiritual, less loyal, or wrong. We can act like "our God" gets upset about these relative, socially-constructed concerns, when "our God" might think it all is not that important, or not important at all.
Could it be Spirit is embracing of all that brings meaning and joy to us, enhances life for all beings, and does not care of any devoted adherence to the details of religious or spiritual practice? Could it be such strict adherence veils a need to feel right and others wrong, to be superior to others? Even as a garden can have many kinds of flowers, all contributing to the whole's loveliness, is this not true of worship?
Does Spirit care if I point my feet to or away from a holy shrine? If I prostrate? If I bow my head? If I take off my shoes? If I do a hand posture or the sign of the cross? If I kneel or stand for Eucharist? If I sit in a lotus posture during meditation? I submit such does not matter, unless to you or in agreement with others to express a shared life together.
Yet, one is wise to respect her worshipping community's customs. Sometimes to worship in a particular way is an act given in humble respect for the community one is worshipping with.
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As wrote the immanent, Orthodox Jewish scholar of mysticism, Abraham Heschel -
We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions. We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.
*Man is not Alone.
Any act of devotion, as any created means or object, is an opportunity to open freshly our self to Life, to allow our aspiration to point us to Grace both near and beyond the shore. Worship is always a reply to That beyond the shore of our intelligence and ways. We are offspring of a great Unseen. The desire to worship is the remembrance of Home.
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embrace diversity in religion and spirituality
not out of a concern for tolerance
but from embracing Love, yes, more
being embraced by Love
to live in and for Love only -
may it be so
for such Grace, I pray
for such Kindness, may all pray
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher FirstBooks. The book is a collection of poems based on the mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery within these traditions appearing in the poetry.