16th November 2023
In the American Quaker classic work, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly writes:
"The basic response of the soul to the Light is internal adoration and joy, thanksgiving and worship, self-surrender and listening. The secret places of the heart cease to be our noisy workshop. They become a holy sanctuary of adoration and of self-oblation, where we are kept in perfect peace, if our minds be stayed on Him who has found us in the inward springs of our life."
I've been considering worship and how we may consider it to be the proper work of the "church". I was not raised with any particular faith, and when I first began to take God seriously, about 40 years ago, I found myself wondering what sort of God could be so vain and egotistical that He demanded "worship" from humankind.
Over the years I've come to see the answer to that in two parts. "Worship" is not one particular set of practices, or even a particular buzz of warm fuzzy feelings. Worship is the affirmation of what is of worth. We live in an extremely materialist culture that values things, not people. Worship is the act of putting aside our worldly concerns and focusing on that which is Eternal and Perfect.
As humans, we tend to think of God as resembling us. But God is much more than anything we can really imagine. We speak of God as the creator of the universe, and yet scientists are regularly discovering the universe is much bigger and more marvellous than we have known.
How much more amazing must be the One who called it all into being and set it moving in its wondrous paths? Worship benefits us, not God. As we focus on God, we come into right relationship with ourselves, our neighbours and with all of creation. We come to worship in different ways. Quakers have traditionally held to the importance of silence as preparation for worship, but for myself, I find other practices important as well.
Music speaks to me of God. I also find helpful the discipline of praise. In the liturgical traditions, this is incorporated as "doxology" or praise to God. The classic Protestant formulation of this is trinitarian (which Quakers tend to avoid).
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Note: the tune to this is called Old Hundredth and appears in the Friends General Conference (Philadelphia) Hymnal (with more politically correct lyrics) in hymns #3 and #4.
Curiously, the Greek word δοξα, (a feminine noun), transliterated as "doxa" does not mean praise. It means "brightness", "splendour" or "radiance". I like the sense of Light connected with this word. As I come into worship, I reflect on ways to praise God. I can always praise the beauty of Creation, the trees, the sky, the mountains and rivers. Everywhere I turn, I see something to praise. I praise God also for the opportunity to come together in community, a community of faith and love.
Worship is intentional. We choose what it is we focus on. Even in the most terrible situations, if we look, we can find people who reach out to one another, to encourage, support and assist. And that is something for which we can praise God, for the blessings of love.