Thought for the day (on worship)

When we praise God, we are offering worship – we are saying ‘God you are so awesome wonderful amazing’ etc.

The important thing is that the praise, the worship is directed towards the object of that worship.

So the language itself is a means to an end. It is the finger pointing at the moon.

So is everything else associated with it – the prayers, the music, the silence.

All those things might be wonderful and worthy of praise in their own right – they might be marvellous language (eg KJV, BCP) – they might be gloriously sublime music (Allegri’s Miserere, Tavener) – they might be profoundly affecting silence – but if these means become ends in themselves, if they become the focal point of attention, then whatever is being done is no longer worship.

And when that happens, what the believer needs to do is to go without them, to fast, in order that these wonderful elements might be re-placed into their proper position.

For the excellence of what is offered – when considered separately to the act of offering itself – is a spiritual snare. It is to offer out of an imagined bounty, not to give the widow’s mite. It is to say ‘I thank you that I’m not like those uncultured heathens with their praise songs (/prayer book societies/ beers’n’hymns/ high mass/ whatever – delete as applicable)’.

I suppose I’m saying: genuine worship begins with ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’; and ‘I am nothing, I am no longer worthy to be called your son’; and also ‘yet what I can I give him, give him my heart’.

If we have our attention on God – everything else will fall naturally into place, and everything else will flourish and be excellent. Yet if we have our attention on those excellent things, then they distract us from God, and then we find ourselves bewildered and lost, tied up in sin.

The first commandment must come first.

Augustine had it right – as so often: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

5 thoughts on “Thought for the day (on worship)

  1. Yes. I think it is very important that we distinguish between the object of our worship and the medium through which that worship is conveyed. But the medium also conveys something of itself, as Marshall Mcluhan reminds us. And the meaning conveyed by the medium will vary according to context (e.g. using a 1662 prayer book means something different today from using the same book and words in 1662). And using a different medium for the first, or even twentieth, time can be a distraction in itself owing to its unfamiliarity.

  2. Good one, Rev. Sam. I was so frustrated at one point that I thought “high church” was something of an end in itself – that it was “real worship” at last.

    But I was just fooled because “high church” was the only place that seemed really focused on God. I found out later that “low church” could also be just as focused on “real worship.”

    Actually, what I learned wast that it doesn’t really matter what the outer forms are, not a bit….

  3. It is interesting that you used the phrase ‘excellent things’ as Philippians 4. 8 explicitly says that we should look for and think on such things.

    What we understand as ‘excellent’ will vary because, although majority verdicts can be made and criteria created, they do not work for everyone and can mislead (as is noted in the comments on beauty).

    Essentially, though, you are speaking about a balance between the Affirmative Way and the Negative Way which are two very different paths; so different that we probably cannot be on both at the same time. I think we need to make a choice as to which Way to pursue overall and then, as you note in your comment about fasting, allow one to purge, refresh and refocus the other.

  4. Sam,

    I’m glad to see you tackle this point. It nearly kept me out of the Catholic Church: I had grown up with beautiful music and a liturgical awareness which is so often absent in our day in Catholic forms of worship — in the way they are celebrated. What I have found, having taken the Tiber Swim, is that the beauty which was for me a means to God was, indeed, on the Roman side of the Tiber, but it had been covered with the almost self-righteous mediocrity of the modern era, on the understanding that the mode had to be “modern” in order to have value. What such thinking has created is a generation (at least) of spiritual orphans. I remain absolutely convinced, incidentally, that the Anglicans who do come over because of the Ordinariate have wanted to become properly Catholic for a long time, but couldn’t find a way to do so without accepting as normative a kind of worship they found pretentiously mediocre.

    May I send you a copy of “Wilt thou build a bridge, Sir”, for your comment?

    Chris Garton-Zavesky

  5. “For the excellence of what is offered – when considered separately to the act of offering itself – is a spiritual snare. It is to offer out of an imagined bounty, not to give the widow’s mite.”

    That’s brilliant; you’ve really helped to clarify some of my own thoughts. As some of the other comments perhaps show, a lingering feeling of doubt, or dissatisfaction with that which we are corporately offering to God as worship can be very troubling.

    If I thought those troubles could be quelled by ascending to the high church, I’d do so … and part of me is tempted to try.

    But I guess we’re all looking for a more authentic route to the divine, and need reminded from time to time that no matter where we go, there we are.

    Thanks in Christ.


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