Lately---I can't remember what triggered it---but lately, I've been thinking about worship. There is something about the word 'worship'---along with words such as devotion, prayer, repose---that I adore. They are beautiful words that haven't yet been worn thin by overuse.
Up until recently, I thought of worship as an act---a supplication, a bowing down to. I also thought of it as something that I didn't do. I'm not very a passionate or supplicant type----I do not throw myself down before altars or make pilgrimages or set up shrines. To worship, I thought, one had to sort of clear away a big, scared space: temporal space such as time away from obligation and distraction. Or literal space such as an ancient cathedral or a snowfield at dusk; a silent shoreline; a mountain, magnificent in the still afternoon heat of an African savanna.
But here is something: worship, I am realizing, is not always so sweeping and intense. It is sometimes but not always. Worship can be little: a gesture---a gesture and another and another that becomes a series and then a lifetime of gestures. What you worship is simply (but not always) what you think about a lot, what you dwell on. I'm not sure, I might be making this up. But anyway, this is what is interesting to me.
Here is David Foster Wallace's thoughts on the subject, from a
commencement address he made to
Kenyon College in May 2005 (two years
before he would, sadly, commit suicide):
There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The
only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for
maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship --
be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the
Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is
that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect---being seen as smart---you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
"Worship," one minister recently shared with me, "means creating a space for God." Insert your God there: "JC or Allah or YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess"; or your money, your lover, your ambitions or desire for power. It is a rather simple exercise, actually.
Worship means creating a space for God. I like that.
The photo "Checking the ice on Flagstaff Lake" is another by Lizzie McGhee, who definitely worships the good things.