Alas, for many who are no longer comfortable within the confines of a single religion, or who can no longer accept core doctrines of their root tradition, worship has become both a problem and a loss. There is a desire to touch, to engage. And there is an aversion and disappointment in what is found in that touch. Beautiful hymns in four part harmony lift the spirit in ecstasy, only to crash suddenly to earth in a glorification of blood sacrifice.
Our existing traditions and the accoutrements of worship that support them have been built over centuries, with great care. Meticulously orchestrated and standardized rituals mediate the sacred, serving as metaphorical doors that open for a moment beyond the limits of physical pain, daily toil and bodily death. They deliver a prescribed, and for many still effective formula of immanent experience and transcendent connection with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.
But for those with one or both feet outside the doctrinal door, satisfaction is limited or seemingly unavailable. In varying degrees, there is a sense of alienation, of fraud. We can choose to stay, crossing fingers or going silent when songs and liturgies lead us into language outside our defined circle of spiritual integrity. For many, that is a useful transitional compromise, preserving aspects of community and offering some level of the expression of ecstasy. But this route offers only a partial, incomplete and less than fully satisfying solution.
A richer alternative may be to extend the circle beyond judgment of the mediated. Recall in our discussion of the sacred and profane that these are not two categories of phenomena. Rather, sacred and profane are the lenses we choose between when we view and engage all that is. Do we choose a sacred life of connection and reverence, or do we engage phenomena as though they are outside ourselves, materialistic products for consumption in a zero sum game of winning or losing, wealth or poverty? This view, this choice, has profound implications for our concept and experience of worship.
Living only within the confines of mediated worship, or fighting its limitations are both positions of judgment, positions that leave us with the dissatisfied sorting of sacred and profane. Either way, we decide that something – whether our traditional worship or our disdain of it – is sacred while the other position is profane. We limit ourselves to external sorting and judgment rather than to holistic seamless engagement of the immanent and transcendent nature of all that is.
When we live life with the eyes of the sacred, we remove the barrier of judgment. We expand with ease outside the limited mediated experience of organized religion without a need to judge or reject it. It’s just that religion and worship are no longer compartmentalized experiences packaged and delivered by institutions. They are not activities like a sport or a class that we choose to take. They are not the prescribed clothing, food, prayers or practices of a given day of the week. Religion and worship become, instead, the very fullness of life itself.
Worship in this sense becomes attention and connection. We become aware of the people on the bus, the driver in the next car, the car and the road themselves. We hear each sound, see each sight, feel each touch, glorious and mundane. We engage with appreciation and reverence, without judgment, experiencing no boundary between institutionalized religious experience, if we choose it, and the fullness of life itself.
We hear the prophetic voice in a rock song, the hope and longing of a ballad. A flower, a fly, a fleeting smile. All things and all acts, ours and those around us, become part of the song of creation, the perpetual praise of becoming – the joy that we are, in the same moment and for all time, ourselves, the spark of being, at one, integral in the fabric of everything.
From this perspective we are free to engage even what we may feel that we have left behind. There is no aspect of loss or limitation, only expansive, extravagant and compassionate welcome of every expression and exploration, each tentative test and step forward into the unknown, the unfoldment of the yet to be created.
There is no loss. There is only more, something whole and complete, worship as the fullness of life and all that is, glorious expectation and engagement of all to come.
I am in Latin America right now. In Spanish one might affirm, “Así es!” This is how it is! Así es! Así es, under the Tree of Life.
© Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.
Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact email@example.com.