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Monday, August 11, 2014

A place for worship

When I googled "worship" this morning, this definition popped up: "the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity." In reading that definition, it occurred to me that the need to reverence and adore something greater than ourselves seems to be universal among humans. Indeed, throughout human history (and among every culture known to us), we can see some evidence of worship.

To be sure, this phenomenon has not always been linked to what many of us would characterize as a deity. In some primitive and ancient cultures, this need to reverence and adore appears to be somewhat amorphous in nature and not tied to a specific god or group of gods. I'm thinking about things like nature, ancestor and hero worship. Likewise, this human energy has been directed at things other than deities in more sophisticated cultures like Rome and China. Although the Romans had their gods, most of their reverence and adoration appears to have been directed at the state itself. Some folks would no doubt describe Confucianism in such terms - that the reverence and adoration are directed at behavior (the way a person conducts his/her life).

In similar fashion, we can observe this same phenomenon at work among our friends on the atheist side of the equation. Once again, there is no conventionally defined god or deity at the center of the phenomenon. Instead, the reverence and adoration is directed at the means of investigation (the scientific method) or the process by which life has attained such diversity on this planet (evolution). Nevertheless, like their theistic counterparts, the feeling or expression of it is also clearly discernable within this group of humans.

It could also be said of both groups (theists and atheists) that the object(s) of their reverence and adoration does/do not need this worship to sustain it/them. Think about it! God would continue to exist if there was no one present to worship "Him." Indeed, the Hebrew God's attitude toward worship appeared to be one of "If you're going to engage in this behavior, then direct it at me" (there are numerous instances in Scripture where the Deity pointedly says that "He" doesn't need their worship). Likewise, evolution would continue to happen if there was no one to appreciate the process. The Scientific Method would continue to work for those who practice it if there was no one to admire it. In other words, this feeling or expression of reverence and adoration that is so prevalent among humans is something that benefits our psyches. In the final analysis, it is something that we do for ourselves.

These are some of the reflections that were prompted by our visit to the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in northwest Arkansas over the weekend. The chapel was built in the middle of a forest of large oak, hickory and pine trees perched above a clear mountain lake. It is constructed around fifteen Gothic arches which give it somewhat of the appearance of a Medieval Cathedral. These steel arches are enclosed by glass walls that allow one to be a part of the surrounding woodland. The interior seating and flooring are wood and stone. The arches were full of beautiful spider webs; and I could see squirrels, hummingbirds and butterflies flitting among the trees from my seat inside the chapel. The only sounds present were the melodious notes of the classical music playing in the background and the wind among the trees outside. There were no planes, trains or automobiles to distract from the serenity. The best of man and nature appeared to coexist in perfect harmony in this place.

While we were there, I was infused with that sense of reverence and adoration that I mentioned in the opening to this post. There was no order of worship. There were no sermons, readings, ceremonies or singing - just the inspirational solitude of our surroundings. We left the chapel feeling rejuvenated and connected. For me, this worship was directed toward God; but it wasn't hard for me to imagine one of my atheist friends leaving the chapel with the same feeling. And so I was drawn to this conclusion by my experience: Worship is a very human need - it's a part of all of us. What do you think?

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