Monday, January 2, 2012

To Worship in Spirit and Truth

What does it mean to worship?  Is there a right or wrong way to worship God?  When believers of one faith are in contact with people who follow another belief system, everyone involved can benefit from the interaction.  Interfaith dialogue is an opportunity to connect more deeply with our own faith practices as we simultaneously expand our understanding of one another. 

In my interfaith seminary program, I am required to visit a variety of religious sites, approaching the multiplicity of faith practices in our world with respect and an open mind.  As I do this, I am also staying grounded in my own faith practices through my church and through my yoga classes. 

It is exciting to exchange perspectives with spiritual practitioners from each of these three arenas.  I am finding that when we can move away from assumptions and culturally biased interpretations, we are more similar than dissimilar when it comes to acts of reverence for the Divine. 

One recent discussion centered on our human tendency to evaluate worship.  We raised the question of worship as entertainment.  As I thought about the phenomenon of the Mega-Church, where hundreds and even thousands of people can worship through singing praise lyrics written on large screens, singing along to the music of a band, I could see how some may view these services as a show.  But I can also see how certain people may feel more comfortable letting go and connecting with God in an anonymous crowd.  In the past I have experienced sincere worship and connection in mega-churches, in small churches, in yoga classes, on spiritual retreats, and more often than any of those, in the privacy of my own room or out in nature as I praise God silently, within myself. 

What about the words we use to address God in prayer and worship?  In my seminary program, some say, “Mother, Father,” some say “God and Goddess,” some say, “Divine One,” and I still say, “God,” or “Lord.”  Although our preferences can differ, I believe that we are addressing the same being.  I do not make any judgments about the form or even the content of our heartfelt offerings to God.  My feelings about worship, praise and prayer are perfectly reflected in the Rumi poem, “Moses and the Shepherd.”  God is looking for our humility, the sincere expression of our love for Him and our surrender to His glory.  As Jesus said, true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.  I believe that this day will come indeed, on this Earth, and I plan to be a part of it. 


"Moses and the Shepherd" by Coleman Barks

Published in The Essential Rumi. Harper Collins, 1995. websource.

Moses heard a shepherd on the road, praying, "God,
where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes
and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes
and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk
to kiss your little hands and feet when it's time
for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room
and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats
are yours. All I can say, remembering you,
is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh."

                 Moses could stand it no longer.
"Who are you talking to?"
                 "The one who made us,
and made the earth and made the sky."
                 "Don't talk about shoes
and socks with God! And what's this with your little hands
and feet
? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you're chatting with your uncles.
                 Only something that grows
needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God!
Even if you meant God's human representatives,
as when God said, `I was sick, and you did not visit me,'
even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.
Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name
for a woman, but if you call a man Fatima,
it's an insult. Body-and-birth language
are right for us on this side of the river,
but not for addressing the origin,
                 not for Allah."
The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered out into the desert.
                 A sudden revelation
then came to Moses. God's voice:
                 You have separated me
from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,
or to sever?
                 I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing that knowledge.
What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.
Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.
                 I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
                 Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It's all praise, and it's all right.
It's not me that's glorified in acts of worship.
It's the worshipers! I don't hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, 'burning'.
                 Be friends
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!
those who pay attention to ways of behaving
and speaking are one sort.
                 Lovers who burn
are another.

                 Don't impose a property tax
on a burned-out village. Don't scold the Lover.
The "wrong" way he talks is better than a hundred
"right" ways of others.
                 Inside the Kaaba
it doesn't matter which direction you point
your prayer rug!
                 The ocean diver doesn't need snowshoes!
The love-religion has no code or doctrine.
                                                   Only God.
So the ruby has nothing engraved on it!
It doesn't need markings.
God began speaking
deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words,
which cannot be recorded here, poured into
and through him. He left himself and came back.
He went to eternity and came back here.
Many times this happened.
It's foolish of me
to try and say this. If I did say it,
it would uproot our human intelligences.
It would shatter all writing pens.
Moses ran after the shepherd.
He followed the bewildered footprints,
in one place moving straight like a castle
across a chessboard. In another, sideways,
like a bishop.  Now surging like a wave cresting,
now sliding down like a fish,
with always his feet
making geomancy symbols in the sand,
recording his wandering state.

Moses finally caught up with him.
"I was wrong. God has revealed to me
that there are no rules for worship.
Say whatever and however your loving tells you to. 
Your sweet blasphemy
is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world
is freed.
Loosen your tongue and don't worry what comes out.
It's all the light of the spirit."
The shepherd replied,
"Moses, Moses, I've gone beyond even that.
You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped
out of itself. The divine nature and my human nature
came together.
Bless your scolding hand and your arm.
I can't say what's happened.
What I'm saying now
is not my real condition. It can't be said."
The shepherd grew quiet.                

When you look in a mirror,
you see yourself, not the state of the mirror.
The flute player puts breath into a flute,
and who makes the music? Not the flute.
The flute player!
Whenever you speak praise
or thanksgiving to God, it's always like
this dear shepherd's simplicity.
When you eventually see
through the veils to how things really are,
you will keep saying again
and again,  "This is certainly not like
we thought it was!"

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