Occasionally, The Seattle Times hosts guest columnists on the Faith & Values page. Today, we introduce Marcia Dounomet Webb, a clinical...
Occasionally, The Seattle Times hosts guest columnists on the Faith & Values page. Today, we introduce Marcia Dounomet Webb, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Seattle Pacific University.
Christian theologians describe humanity as “homo adorans” — people with an essential need to adore or worship. We need to be enchanted with something greater than ourselves. This yearning can be seen in our appreciation of the natural world and of artistic masterpieces. We want to be enraptured.
How tragic, then, that we settle so often simply to be entertained, or even just occupied. As contemporary Americans, our lives may be cluttered with meetings, to-do lists, e-mails, technological gadgetry and caffeine jolts.
But the glory of God is not like the bling-bling of our world. With latte in hand, cellphone perched at one ear, how could we catch a glimpse of God’s glory rushing by the altar? In worship we are called to do what the present world can neither teach nor even understand. We still our spirits, turning away from the din of everyday pressures and temptations to remember our God.
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This turning away is not easy. To be still is to stand apart from the contemporary world as it hurries frantically by in the current of its own seductive anxieties. (Are we good enough, successful enough, attractive enough? Are we loved enough?) In comparison with the sirens of our culture, rituals of organized worship may seem crude. How can they compete for our attention?
Years ago, I read a Scripture passage at my church and returned to my seat at the front for the remainder of the service. I watched as the congregation partook of the Lord’s Supper. People poured from their pews toward the altar. Watching each congregant step forward, I imagined God’s observation of this event across the breadth of eternity.
Before God was the never-ending flow of humanity silently stepping forward to partake of the Bread of Life week after week through the millennia. These worshippers followed unseen ancestors in their procession and will be followed by another, unbroken stream of descendants in the faith.
Perhaps when we worship, God watches us step unknowingly through the finite crevice of the present and seemingly all-consuming moment into our place within a vast eternal community of believers.
We join our voices with those who have gone before in prayers and hymns, which may themselves be centuries old, echoing an enduring love song. In reciting Scripture, we revisit the history of God’s love for us in ages past, as we wait with hope, and prepare ourselves, for God’s victorious presence in our future together.
God’s observation of our worship may encompass not only the fullness of time, divided for us into past, present and future. God may also see our worship across the expanse of human space.
Last year, I watched on TV the celebrations of New Year’s Eve as midnight fell in time zones around the world. Video clips showed fireworks exploding first in Australia, then in Paris, and finally in New York. I imagined God watching these same fireworks, not through the limited frame of a television screen but from a celestial vantage point.
I wondered, what does God see of the sacred festivities of worship? Every weekend, God may watch as our worship spans the globe, hour by hour, crossing continental boundaries, leaping across oceans, a spherical unfolding of praise.
Consider also the practice of churchgoers who raise their arms upward during prayer or song. I am reminded of “the wave” at sporting events, when spectators around an arena sequentially stand and throw up their arms in celebration of a victory. As our worship travels across the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the Earth, God can see what we only imagine, the weekly wave of the church, our arms and our voices reaching upward toward heaven.
And what is this victory we are invited to celebrate again and again, around the world and down through time? This victory that summons us to turn from the frenzy of our lives and to still our spirits in order to recall it? This victory we commemorate in the great company of believers who transcend time and space?
We consider the cross, the grave, the empty tomb.
Oh yes, suddenly we remember the source of all this endless festivity: We are loved. We are fully loved. And it is enough.
Marcia Dounomet Webb has an M.A. in communications, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She has been on the faculty at Seattle Pacific University since 1996.