Friday, January 29, 2010

What We Worship

The Gods we worship write their names on our faces, be sure of that. And a person will worship, have no doubt of that either. One may think that tribute is paid in secret, in the dark recesses of his or her heart, but it is not. That which dominates imagination and thoughts will determine life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshiping, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.
From the Gates of Heaven alternative services, quoted on the CD, Life's A Lesson, by Ben Sidran.

I picked up this CD at the public library and brought it home mostly because of this quote. Ben Sidran is a Jewish jazz musician who was trying to find a spiritual home for himself and his young family in Wisconsin when he wandered into an alternative service led by Hannah Rosenthal at the third oldest free-standing synagogue in the United States, Gates of Heaven. His story about the making of the CD is wonderful background, but it is this quote that really caught my attention.

What am I becoming? What is written on my face? What do I worship? Worship comes from the Old English root of "worth," so what do I find worthy of my love and attention?

I have been working on developing my habits in this new year of accessible and fun physical exercise. The key for me has been to make the exercise either playful or with some twist and/or short enough that I can either do it mindlessly or mindfully, and the time slots must fit in my life. I have spent five minutes bouncing a foam practice tennis ball or throwing a small stuffed bear repeatedly up into the air, ten minutes dancing to Ziggy Marley's Walk Tall while hitting a punching balloon in each hand, or taking a 53 rock walk (that is, using decorative stones as counters for the laps as I walk around my house). I call these "Spark" exercises after the book by Dr. Glenn Gaesser, that is, bursts of relatively high intensity exercise that spark your fat burning and ignite your energy levels.

I've also done more mundane weight lifting using the Strong Women Stay Young book by Dr. Miriam Nelson, breaking the sets up into something that I can do in 10-15 minutes, but using the goal setting and tracking psychology to add weight each time, and have also used a walk at home DVD by Leslie Sansone, because she's fun, but not manic about form: just walk.

Doing exercise requires a mindfulness all by itself so that it doesn't become too much of a focus in and of itself. Certainly that's the reason the quote about what we worship caught my attention. I don't want exercise to become an idol that I worship. But neither do I want avoiding exercise to be something I worship.

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 1 Corinthians 10.11-14


1. Worship of idols.

2. Blind or excessive devotion to something.

I also think that Christianity's Hellenic heritage has created a very dualistic view of mind/body, with the body getting the bad rap. The idea that our body is wonderful and holy has been twisted by some of our forebears into the idea our bodies should be contained and kept pure. Where is the joy of glorifying God in your body?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6: 19-20

Yes, you worship in your body and your body will reflect what you worship.

I realized on Thursday that I had done a fairly good job of paying attention to my body this past week, but my mind and soul also need to be fed. That wheel-spinning sense of ennui or boredom that still provokes my unmindful eating and frankly my general distress at the state of the world, the state elections, and the health and well-being of my community of friends needed something as counter-balance. As serendipity would have it, my new issue (January 26, 2010) of Christian Century magazine had just arrived in the mail, and I began flipping through.Paula Huston's article on "A midlife spiritual challenge," Wake-up Call documents her "third" conversion: a call to pay attention to doing the Spirit's work in the world.

Benedictine Michael Casey captures what's going on during experiences like these. "Conversion means being liberated by God's grace so that we can at last follow the intimate spiritual aspirations that have long been unheeded, neglected, or frustrated."

Oh, yeah, I remember now: Call—that was the reason I went to seminary. Now I have to ask again what am I doing about my intimate spiritual aspirations? That's right: what am I worshiping?

If how you spend your time is a true reflection of what you worship, then I am worshiping my secular job, and it is not a place where I often remember call or grace. This week there certainly was frustration. So I took today off. In an attempt to be restorative, yet spontaneous, I let my morning music on the iPod go to shuffle—a random selection. As my UCC friends would say, "God is still speaking," and the first piece of music was Crux Fidelis from Women in Chant: Recordare. My early morning translation only got as far as "faithful cross," and I meditated on that while listening to the Latin chant. What is my cross? How am I faithful in spite of or because of the cross? Again, what do I worship?

The next song was Shiviti HaShem, from the album Each of Us by Ya Elah, and I know that that HaShem is a name for God, so I knew that God was in front of me when this song came up, although I didn't know what shiviti meant. My Hebrew was better than I knew, as I found out that this is the Hebrew phrase from Psalm 16: 8, "I have set the Lord always before me," "shiviti Hashem lenegdi tamid."

Am I keeping God in mind? Well, you get the message—or at least I started to get the message. By the way, these are not songs that I regularly listen to, and in fact I suspect it's been more than a year since I had listened to either song.

Today as I did my 56 rock walk, I stayed in the moment: the way my foot needed to step to make the corner as I did my turns around my house; the way one beam of sunlight could catch and illuminate the color of whatever rock I was holding in my hand as I came past the living room windows; the beauty and mystery of veined rocks and stones; the feel of rough and tumbled stones; the twinge in my hip. God is present in all of this.

God creates us whole and holy and in order to worship truly we must bring our whole and holy selves to the presence of the Creator. My prayer is that we each remember to set the Other, whole and holy, in front of us, and worship and become more whole and holy.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my solving comments. Might have said it before. God calls; denominations stall. calls, and offers churches, but not always denominationally. Okay, I am done.