Monday, April 25, 2011

What is Worship?

I always wondered what worship really was. Is it just singing songs of praise, burning sacrifices, and giving lip service to your god? No one ever seemed to have a good definition of this, and I never understood what it meant. How do you do it? What am I supposed to be feeling? Finally I heard a good definition of worship: listening.

Worship as listening... yes, this seems more worshipful than anything. To silence the self and all its commotion, to settle into the underlying Silence of... what? Divinity? Reality? Whatever. I remember Kazantzakis wrote something like, of all the angels flying around God, the one named Silence flies the closest, a lovely image.

Every tradition has it's meditative parts. Yet western religion, like western life, focuses almost exclusively on activity: reading the texts, singing, chanting, praying, endless talking about God, and of course, social improvement. All have their place; social improvement through charity and such are good, and we must talk to one another about our shared faiths if we are to sustain a church (one could question the need for organized religion, but as a social species, I'm willing to let that go for now).

A moment of silence at church doesn't get it, either, because no real understanding is ever taught of what that really means. We may pause in the hymns and prayers, but no one ever said it meant internal silence too. The point was never made; for myself I always thought I was supposed to pray silently, that is, "think" to God instead of talking to him. The upshot is we talk to God so much in prayer that no one takes a moment to listen for a response, which is never going to come like a booming voice from the sky.

I really like the story of Elijah on the mountain. He hears a whirlwind, but God isn't in the whirlwind. He hears an earthquake, but God isn't in the earthquake. He beholds a roaring fire, but God is not in the fire. Finally, he hears God as a still, small voice.

Now, the difference between a loud sound and a quiet sound is far less than the difference between any sound and silence. And the passage is pointing to a profound qualitative difference from the tremendous events that he just witnessed and the still small voice. So I think that line would be better understood as referring to Silence than a whisper.

Elijah was listening, he was worshipping.

Lastly, every time I write worship I seem to type whorship, which I think is sort of funny.


  1. I think worship is whatever you think about the most. People can say they worship God, but if they think about money all the time, you could say they worship money. Of course most people probably wouldn't admit that. Like you said, worship is about listening, but its also about focusing, whatever you focus your attention on the most, gives power to it. It's not just something people do in a formal setting, like church, its wherever your thoughts are the what you worship.

    Funny about the mistyping worship as whorship. Made think of warship. Or a ship of whores. Sorry. I don't mean any disrespect by that, but that's what your typo made me think of.

  2. That's exactly what I found funny about my typo: a ship of whores, haha.

    But yeah, very good point you make, I'd say you're right, focus is a big part of it.

  3. I like this post. (And whorship sounds like the kind of typo I would have made or found hilarious.)

    I like your notion of "thinking" to God.

  4. I like your spelling of whorship so much, I might borrow it from time to time.