“Whatever experiences we may have, we shall not regard them as miraculous if we already hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural.” – C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
As I reflect upon what it means to be a worshipping being, I find it difficult to even define worship, let alone being. The struggle is rooted in the sundry examples of worship, definitions of worship, characterizations of worship, etc. that answer the questions of “what it is” as well as “what it is not.” To be a worshipping being must be to embody worship (whatever “worship” is) and that is as far as I can often go in my thought process. By this definition, if I am a human and I one day decide to be a “worshipper,” quite suddenly I am transformed into a worshipping being. But maybe the relationship is backwards: to be is in fact, to worship, and before being anything else in our lives, we are simply beings and we are simply worshipping beings.
I think about young children who hardly recognize the world around them yet they recognize the presence of their mother: her voice, her touch, her gait, her smell. These children are worshipping beings, living in so many ways, dependent on someone or something else for sustenance and ultimately, life. While they are in some senses selfish, they are in other senses radically other-focused and other-dependent. They have not reached an age of autonomy. They are utterly helpless. They are worshipping beings, dependent on a mother who must provide for their needs.
As we get older, our dependence breeds independence. We want to fulfill our own needs and we want to assert ourselves. In essence, we want to worship ourselves: who we have become and who we are becoming. At all stages of life, we have needs and we decide whether to be autonomous or dependent in having them filled. All beings are worshipful in one sense or the other and to various degrees.
The trouble with worship is its inherent power. It draws us to and fro and controls our senses. Sometimes, we can become so focused on the object of our worship that we fail to see other avenues of need fulfillment. Perhaps, we steamroll relationships in order to fulfill our self-diagnosed personal needs or perhaps others of us grow reclusive, independent and self-focused in order to self-fulfill without the requisite failures that accompany a dependence on others. Either way, we worship.
Some have said that being is accompanied by a “God-shaped hole.” At our deepest level, we all struggle to fill needs that we were predisposed to possess. In worship, we look at our need and decide what or who will fill it. Whatever we draw strength from, that is the object of our worship.
The beautiful and haunting thing is the way in which Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit fill this need so perfectly that it virtually disappears. A worshipping being that worships in Christ is one that acknowledges a lack of needs because the need has finally and totally disappeared. Christ’s death and his resurrection have transformed the hole into a spring. A worshipping being in this sense has a worldview that is upside-down. They move through an unknown world where the rules have been rewritten, where reality is more than what can be proven through empiricism. They see dimly (but sometimes vividly) into a different sort of reality that can in turn, reach back and change this one. I’m mostly talking about the Holy Spirit’s awesome power to fill us, transform us, and speak through and to us. But I’m also talking about God’s Angels, their battles over us, and God’s dominion over certain areas of our lives, physical and emotional. I really don’t mind being mystical about the forces of good and evil. I also don’t mind acknowledging the power of prayer, the strength we draw from it, and God’s perpetual answers to it. A worshipping being in this sense is someone who is beginning to reshape and recalculate reality. They have begun to discover exactly who God is and why He is to be worshipped. They may even find that it is not because He is good, or big, or a giver of salvation; they may find that it is simply because He is God and even without His goodness, He is great. He has dominion and He has power and He is holy. He has created us and He has given us a longing to understand Him more fully.
When Jesus calls us to be children, He is reminding us that our needs are still very primitive and inborn. He is reminding us that “worship” is that thing we do from our very first breath and it is good for us to remember that worship is not formal, ritualistic, or hokey because it is simply a direction that we orient ourselves and from it, we proceed toward the holy or the profane. If we point ourselves toward the holy, we are acknowledging the deep and metaphysical quality of reality, its flexibility at the hand of God. If we point ourselves away from the holy, then we are closing ourselves off to the possibility of seeing the miracles of God and especially Christ’s resurrection. A child-like faith believes in the mystery and the inexplicability of God’s power. It worships God by focusing need-fulfillment on the one thing that fails to fail. And even while Christian worship can feel like focusing on a phantom it is only because Christian worship finally focuses oneself away from oneself and from an immediately tangible reality.
From my tradition’s standpoint, Scripture is a perfect revelation of God’s power and strength. In it, we find God’s great works that often resist scientific explanations. We also find stories that point to human insecurity, sin, and destruction. Such a great gulf between us and God’s goodness is evident in the stories of the Israelites and the later in the stories of new Christians in the Roman world. We also find God’s call to worship Him, to focus our minds on Him (Proverbs 3:8), to pray continually to Him, and to be worshipping beings in a new sense of the word, a Christian sense. Christ embodies it as a suffering servant and from his life, we draw the inspiration to live our own lives by a new and radical sense of worship that focuses on God and consequently, the suffering of those around us. Thankfully, as Christians, we find hope in this newfound worship because as worshipping beings who delight in Christ’s victory over death, we also delight in God’s active presence and know that God may transform our suffering if only we ask.