Worship: What Is It Good For?

The text for this week’s sermon is John 12:1-8.

I love that 70s song by Edwin Starr that goes:

“WAR! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

I think that’s a great question to ask: What is it good for?

It’s a question I think we could easily ask of ourselves, simply by changing the first word:

Church… Faith… Prayer… Worship… What is it good for?

There are many who have asked that very question over the centuries, and not a few of them have come back with the same answer: Absolutely nothing!

Historically, one well-known philosopher who asked that question (and came up with the same answer) is Karl Marx, who co-wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. He wrote, quite famously:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Years later, the Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin expanded on Marx’s idea by saying:

“Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze, in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.”

More recently, a group of three, young, Christian pastors have written a book called Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get To Work. In this book, they say:

For many people, Christian discipleship is sleepwalking. We inhabit a world of dreams and imagination, of theology and interpretation, of jargon and tradition. Worship services follow the same pattern week after week, and we can just coast through. Christian leaders can, and do, phone it in. We stand, we sit, some of us kneel, we turn to face the cross, we bow our heads, we take a morsel of bread and a sip from a cup, and we proclaim our work done.

Now, what each of these authors is trying to say is that any religion, any church, or any spiritual practice that does not lead humanity toward a transformed world is good for absolutely nothing. That kind of religion is like a drug: it makes people feel good by numbing them to the pain of the world. People use that kind of faith as an escape. It’s a drug and it’s good for absolutely nothing. Marx and Lenin would say that it’s better to have no faith at all. And I agree with them… to a point.

To all of the above authors, I would say, “Yes, but..”

I would say “Yes” to Marx and Lenin because the kind of religion we learn from Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles is firmly based in God’s desire for a world that has been transformed for good. Nowhere in orthodox Christian theology do we find the notion that God doesn’t care about this world.

Instead, we hear God say through the prophet Amos:

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

In other words, God is sick and tired of their religion and wants them to work for justice instead. This is a profoundly biblical idea. Likewise, God says through the prophet Isaiah:

Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

In the Epistle of James in the New Testament, the apostle writes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So, this is where I say “Yes” to Lenin and Marx. If our Christian faith is just a way for us to escape the pain of life instead of working to make this world a better place, then our faith is just a drug that’s good for absolutely nothing. Better to have no faith at all, than that kind of faith.

However, my “Yes” to Marx and Lenin is not unqualified. It’s a “Yes, but…”

Yes, “faith without works is dead,” but empty escapism is not all there is to Christianity. As we have already observed, the core message of both Testaments in the Bible is the God who is “making all things new” in Christ. God’s dream is for “a new heaven and a new earth” and God has invited you and I to help make that dream come true by living our lives as “the hands and feet of Jesus” on earth today. The fact that some Christians have distorted or forgotten that fact does not negate its truth one iota. The solution to bad Christianity is not no Christianity, but better Christianity. That’s where Marx and Lenin go wrong.

In this morning’s gospel, Mary of Bethany, that wonderful mother of all contemplative saints, performs an extravagant act of beauty and service for Jesus. The text tells us she “took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” We soon find out that this perfume was worth almost a year’s salary for the average working person.

Judas Iscariot, ever the practical Marxist, laments, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (NOTE: Of course, we also learn in the next sentence that Judas’ motive for saying this was somewhat less than pure.)

Judas saw Mary’s act of worship as nothing more than a giant waste of resources. Many critics continue to accuse Christians of the same thing today.

Why do we get up and go to church on Sunday? Wouldn’t it be better to spend that time volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter? Why wake up early for prayer and Bible study before work? Do we think our prayers will magically come true like wishes upon a star? Why practice Christian spirituality at all? Why not just work hard as an activist, fighting for peace and justice? Like Mary’s anointing of Jesus, isn’t it all just a big waste of precious resources?

I would say no, it’s not a waste, and here’s why:

The biblical text tells us that, after Mary had broken open this expensive jar and anointed Jesus with its contents, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

In other words, the act of worship transformed the place where it happened and, by extension, the people who witnessed it. Even Judas was affected.

In the same way, our worship transforms us. It empowers us to do the work of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Without being taught by the Word of God in Scripture, it never would have occurred to us to look for the presence of Christ in “the least of these” and serve them as if they were Christ himself (as indeed they are, as Christ said). Without being fed by the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, it never would have occurred to us that our broken and suffering neighbors are actually our brothers and sisters, fellow members of the Body of Christ, who eat from the same bread and drink from the same cup as us. Without the experience of dying and rising with Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism, we would not have the courage to face death and risk our lives for the sake of what we believe is right. But we have all these lessons because we have received them through the symbols, myths, and rituals of the Christian tradition. These tools shape us, so that we can then go out and shape the world. Without them, many of us would be utterly incapable of making a positive difference.

That’s what St. Mary of Bethany understood and the Communists didn’t. Worship makes a difference. Marx and Lenin were right that faith is worthless if it doesn’t make a difference in way we live our lives in this world. But they were also wrong, because the Spirit-filled worship of God in Word and Sacrament has the power to transform us from the inside out and then send us out into the world, where we can be agents of transformation in the revolutionary coming of the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

What Is Worship?

Image by Michael Melgar. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Image by Michael Melgar. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

It is the soul searching for its counterpart.
It is a thirsty land crying out for rain.
It is a candle in the act of being kindled.
It is a drop in quest of the ocean.
It is a person listening through a tornado for the Still Small Voice.
It is the voice in the night calling for help.
It is a sheep lost in the wilderness pleading for rescue by the Good Shepherd.
It is the same sheep nestling in the arms of the Rescuer.
It is the Prodigal Son running to his Father.
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the Universe.
It is a poet enthralled by the beauty of a sunrise.
It is a worker pausing a moment to listen to a strain of music.
It is a hungry heart seeking for love.
It is Time flowing into Eternity.
It is my little self engulfed in the Universal Self.
It is a person climbing the altar stairs to God.

The one who neglects worship, neglects that which separates us from the birds, the animals, the insects, and the fishes.
The unworshipful human is an anthropoid equipped with a highly developed brain.
She may be a paragon of morality, but so are bees and ants.
She may be keenly intelligent, but so are wolves and foxes.
She may provide for her family, but so do hyenas and orangutans.
She may be successful in affairs, but so are beavers and muskrats.
She may be artistic, but so are birds and butterflies.
Worship is the chief concern of highly developed human beings.
Human beings must be graded according to their capacity for Worship.
Worship for people is what song is for a thrush or physical beauty for a tiger or speed for a race horse.
Worship lifts people to their next level of experience and justifies their existence as people.
Worship is a Person expressing his or her entire personality.
To neglect Worship is to accept a low rating as a person.
To neglect Worship is to fail in life’s highest function.
The neglect of Worship is psychical suicide.
Ignorant Worship is better than intelligent non-worship.
Intelligent Worship is the most remarkable achievement of which a human being is capable.

The primary function of a church is to supply an incentive to Worship, and to furnish an atmosphere for Worship.
If one cannot Worship in Church, the Church may be at fault, or the person may be at fault.
If the Church is at fault it will eventually perish unless it remedies the condition.
If the person is at fault, she will dry up and become a spiritual mummy, unless she changes herself.

Adapted from Dwight Bradley in the Inter-Church Hymnal, published in 1946.

Why We Worship

dzhokhar-tsarnaevWe may be New Yorkers, fans of the Yankees or the Mets, but this week we’re all rooting for Boston!

When I heard the news about the atrocity at the marathon, my first inclination was to change this week’s sermon topic.  These are the moments when collective trauma demands a response from the pulpit.  I’ve done it before, especially after the shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT.  My first thought was that I should diverge from our current series on the Great Ends of the Church and use our time together this morning to offer words of healing.

But then I remembered something that happened to me on September 11, 2001.  I was a senior in college then.  It was a Tuesday and I was late to my 11 o’clock class.  I didn’t usually turn on the news in the morning, so I had no idea what was going on in the world.  I remember looking over my shoulder as I rushed past a conference room and seeing a group of people huddled around a television and there on the screen was the image that would forever be burned into my consciousness: the burning towers of the World Trade Center.  I immediately stopped in my tracks, walked back, and sat down with the others in the conference room to take in what was happening.  Needless to say, I never made it to class that day.

The next day, I went to see my professor, Dr. Hauser, and apologized for missing class.  He had a strict attendance policy and I wanted to explain why I had missed class.  “I understand,” he said, “but your absence will still count against you.”  When I asked him why he wouldn’t excuse my absence, Dr. Hauser said these words, which I will remember for the rest of my life: “Because the goal of terrorism is to disrupt and I refuse to allow them to accomplish that goal, so far as my class is concerned.”

And so, borrowing a page from Dr. Hauser’s book, I have decided that I will not give the Tsarnaev brothers the pleasure of disrupting our church service this morning.  We’re going to continue with our regularly scheduled sermon series on the Great Ends of the Church.  In fact, their actions will only serve to illustrate my point, as you’ll soon see.

This week is the third in a six-week series on the Great Ends of the Church.  We’re using this old Presbyterian document to answer the question, “Why does the Church exist?”  On the first week, Easter Sunday, we said the first Great End of the Church is “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”  Last week, we said the second Great End of the Church is “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.”  And this week, we’re saying the third Great End of the Church is “the maintenance of divine worship.”

I actually think today is the perfect Sunday to talk about worship because it is moments of crisis, like this one, that so often lead us to lean more heavily and stand more firmly on the foundation of our faith.  When one part of our identity is attacked, we humans almost instinctively look to ground our collective sense of self in some deeper and stronger source.  I think it’s no surprise that people flocked in droves to churches, mosques, and synagogues in the days after 9/11.  I also think it’s no coincidence that we saw so many ecumenical and interfaith worship services going on at the same time.  Even if it was just for a moment, labels like Protestant and Catholic, Jewish and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu were being set aside in favor of some larger reality that embraces and connects us all.  This week, we’ve even got Yankees fans wearing Red Sox jerseys (which is the biggest miracle of all, if you ask me).

When we talk about worship, we’re using a word that comes from the Old English term worth-ship.  We’re talking about that which has ultimate worth or value in our eyes.  In worship, we direct our attention toward that which is most important to us in life.  We stop for a moment to orient our little lives within the larger context of the big picture.  It is from this exercise that we draw strength, hope, and courage for facing the days ahead.

Drawing from the resources of our Judeo-Christian heritage, I picked out two passages of scripture that illustrate the act of worship and its power to sustain us in times of crisis.

I’ll start with our New Testament reading.  It came from the book of Revelation, at the very end of the Bible.  Here we read about a vision of what worship looks like from the perspective of heaven.  The author saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”  The author is told that these people are the ones “who have come out of the great ordeal”.  Having passed through life’s hardships, they exist in a state of constant, ecstatic worship before God’s throne in heaven.  As Charles Wesley wrote in his famous hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, they are “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”  The angel serving as the author’s celestial tour guide says:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

This is the effect that worship has on their lives.  They want for nothing.  They fear nothing.  We’re used to thinking of passages like this one as descriptive of the afterlife, but I see no reason why we cannot experience at least a taste of that heaven in this life.

This morning’s Old Testament reading from the book of Daniel tells the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men who refused to bow down to the idols of the society they lived in and were made to pass through the fire by the powers that be.  It was their worship of God that put them at odds with the values of the dominant culture around them.  They saw their lives as part of a bigger picture than the one made up of the demands and concerns of the Babylonian Empire.  So, when the reigning powers of that empire demanded their allegiance, they said no.  The full weight of imperial sanction was brought to bear against them, but still they refused.

When they were finally cast into the fire, the reality of their faith was vindicated as it became plain to see that these three young men were not alone in their struggle.  Someone was walking through the fire with them, some mysterious person who had “the appearance of a god”, according to those who saw.

As it was with them, so it is with us.  As we pass through the fires and ordeals of this life, worshiping as we go, we discover that we are not alone.  Our God walks with us in the fire.  As it says in the book of Revelation, God shelters us and shepherds us, guiding us toward “springs of the water of life” where “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”

The purpose of worship is to open our hearts and minds to this grand reality in which we live, move, and have our being.  In worship, we lift our vision higher than our visibility.  We look at our circumstances through the eyes of faith.  We gather the fragments of our myriad little stories and lives into one Great Story told in prayer, creed, scripture, sacrament, and song.

This is why worship has the power to get us through times of crisis like the ones we lived through this week.  Through it, we come to realize (or are reminded yet again) that the deepest part of ourselves is connected to the deepest part of the universe.  “Deep calls out to deep,” as it says in the psalm.

We reach out to feel the bond of this deep connection in moments of crisis.  What we need to do is nurture that same sense of connectedness in our regular, everyday living.  That way, when crises happen, large or small, we have a well of spiritual resources from which we can draw the water of life.

Those who learn how to live from this deep center are often the very same ones who are ready, willing, and able to share their abundance of spiritual strength and compassion with others.  They are the ones who can walk through the fire, trusting that God walks with them.

That’s what the worship-life of the church is here for: to nurture that strength in believers.  We do it together in our weekly services of public worship, but I hope we also do it individually during the other six days of the week.  This is why it’s so important to have a regular, daily practice of devotional prayer and Bible reading at home.  These spiritual disciplines, far from being rote religious exercises, are as essential to the health of our souls as food and water are essential to the health of our bodies.

We need to maintain that sense of deep connection, not just during moments of crisis, not just on holidays, not just weekly, but daily.

That sense of community bonding we saw in Boston this week is available to all of us, all the time.  The purpose of the church’s worshiping life is to maintain that sense of connection in the normal, boring seasons of life so that we can be ready to spring into action as heroes and leaders when these moments of crisis arise.  We can face the flames unafraid because we know that our God walks through them with us.

This week, I believe we saw God walking with us through the flames.  The stories of heroism, goodwill, and sacrifice cannot undo our grief and anger, but they can exist alongside it, reminding us that evil, chaos, and darkness are not, in fact, the only forces at work in this world.  Furthermore, they will not have the last word.  So long as there is still one good person in this world who’s willing to run toward explosions for the sake of other, wounded human beings, we know that “the light [still] shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The worshiping life of the church reminds us of this truth and seeks to grow in us that same kind of strength and compassion, in hopes that we too might become beacons of hope and justice in this world, people strengthened by faith to stand up for love and walk through the fire, trusting that God walks with us.

Not Just Pretty Clothes

This is my column for my church’s newsletter this month.  Superfriends and Blogofans from liturgical churches will probably find this information old news, but those of you from “low church” Protestant backgrounds (e.g. Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.) might find this interesting.  Having come to the Presbyterian Church from an Anglican denomination, I see “high church” liturgy as one gifts that I can bring.  For a more detailed description of liturgical vestments (with pictures), visit: www.kencollins.com

Image by Gareth Hughes.  Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
Image by Gareth Hughes. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

When people think of a Presbyterian pastor leading worship, they tend to think of someone wearing a long, black robe that looks like the kind of academic gown worn at graduations.  In fact, that’s exactly what it is.  This practice goes back to John Calvin himself, who was an educator by profession.  The academic robe (also called a Geneva gown, after the city Calvin lived in) was the socially acceptable thing for a teacher to wear in the 1500s, much like white coats for doctors and uniforms for police officers are today.  John Calvin wore his academic robe in the pulpit because he was opposed to the practice of wearing liturgical vestments like they did in the Roman Catholic Church.

Since Calvin’s time, relations between Presbyterians and Catholics have softened considerably.  Starting in the 1960s, we even began adopting each other’s worship practices.  For example, Catholics now lead mass in English and celebrate Communion while facing the congregation.  Presbyterians (and other Protestants) have been rediscovering the value of ancient and medieval forms of worship, including the weekly celebration of Communion and the wearing of liturgical vestments.

Liturgical vestments are special clothes worn by the clergy when they lead worship.  While they got their start as everyday street clothes in Roman times, they have taken on symbolic meaning over time.

First, there is the Alb.  This is a long, white robe that is a symbol of baptism.  The color white signifies the purity of a soul that has been cleansed from sin.  The sacrament of baptism is the sign of this cleansing.  Anyone who has been baptized can wear this vestment.  In Revelation 7:9, the Bible describes a heavenly scene: “I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

Second, there is the Cincture.  This is a rope belt that symbolizes the teachings of Christ.  Like the alb, anyone, ordained or lay, can wear the cincture.  After all, every Christian is supposed to follow Jesus’ teachings, right?  The cincture is a belt because we bind Christ’s teachings to our lives at all times.  It is just as Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:6-9: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  The cincture is a visual reminder to us that we should do the same.

Third, there is the Stole.  This is the long scarf worn by pastors and priests.  It is a sign that the person wearing it has been ordained.  In Roman times, men would wear stoles on formal occasions in the same way that men wear neckties today.  Symbolically, it stands for the yoke of ordained ministry.  For those who are unfamiliar with cattle and oxen, a yoke is a special kind of harness that goes over an ox’s neck when it pulls a cart, just like the stole goes over the pastor’s neck.  This is a reminder of the pastor’s job: to pull the cart (the church) and take it wherever the driver (Christ) directs.  The pastor is not the driver.  The church does not belong to the pastor.  The church belongs to Christ.  Christ decides where the church goes.  The pastor’s job is simply to help the church get there.  If you catch me in my office immediately before or after worship, you might see me kiss the stole as I put it on and take it off.  This traditional gesture is a way for me to remind myself to embrace my calling as the pastor of this church.

Finally, there is the Chasuble.  This poncho-like vestment is only worn when the Eucharist (Communion) is celebrated.  It symbolizes the grace (unconditional love) of God, which covers everything like a big, warm blanket.  It is worn during Communion as a reminder of Christ’s unconditional love that led him to lay down his life for others.  This is the event we remember as we share the broken body and shed blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving, which is our primary response to God’s grace which has been made known to us in Christ.

More and more Presbyterians are starting to make use of these traditional liturgical vestments in worship.  I am sharing their symbolic meaning with you so that you can fully appreciate and enter into the spiritual truths they convey.  Our worship is not simply a matter of thoughts and words.  We bring our whole selves, body and soul, into church.  Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell all play a part in our service.

I pray that your knowledge of these visual symbols in the special clothes I wear on Sunday will enrich your worship experience and make the presence of God more real to you as we render our reverence to God.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Barrett

The Democracy of the Dead

“I handed on to you what I also received…”  Image by Trilok Rangan.

 

Hacking Christianity has posted a wonderful response to A Growing Church is a Dying Church.  I can’t find an author’s name, but whoever it is has done a fantastic job of thoughtfully analyzing and critiquing my words.  I’m honored that someone would care enough to craft such an in-depth response.  The whole article is worth reading.  Here’s the link:

RE: A Growing Church is a Dying Church?

Why We need Tradition in the Wesleyan Church

Here is my rejoinder to Hacking Christianity’s rebuttal:

It wasn’t my conscious intention to be an “iconoclast of tradition”, but I can definitely see how my original post might read that way.  In my own mind, I’m quite the traditionalist, especially when it comes to liturgy.  If I were going to push against “tradition” at all, it would be two particular kinds:

1.  Nostalgia masquerading as Tradition.  In many cases, “the way we’ve always done it” actually refers to practices that only became established during the 1950s-1970s.  In my experience, those who fight hardest for this variety tend to be baby boomers who want to reconstruct the church of their childhood during the postwar church-attendance explosion.  What they want is a return to cultural dominance, popularity, and (most of all) money.  When they talk about returning to “traditional hymnody”, they don’t want the time-tested theological depth of Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley.  They want Fanny Crosby and the Sunday School hymns of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Never mind the horrible theology found in “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through”, people want to sing it because it reminds them of days gone by, just like Bing Crosby at Christmas.

When my generation retires, I’m sure there will be plenty of cranky curmudgeons who will torture their pastors about singing “Shout to the Lord” and “Awesome God”.  Rich Mullins will roll over in his grave on that day.

2.  Habit masquerading as Tradition.  “The way we’ve always done it” carries much stronger argumentative weight when people can identify why they’ve always done it that way.

For example, my wife’s grandmother used to always slice the end off of her Christmas ham each year.  When my mother-in-law asked why she did that, Grandma said she didn’t know, it was just the way her mother taught her to do it.  When Grandma later asked her mother about the origin of that tradition, Great Grandma revealed, “Oh, I only did that because the cooking pan I had back then was too small and a whole ham wouldn’t fit!”  All along, they had continued this tradition without knowing why they did it.

Here’s a counter-example of a well-reasoned tradition: My current congregation closes the Sunday service by singing the Clare Benediction.  They began this tradition while they were between pastors several years ago.  There was a long interim period, followed by a tragically short pastorate, followed by another long vacancy.  All in all, it had been about 7 years since they really felt at home with a pastor.  That’s a long time for a church that wasn’t ready to transition to a lay-led model.  The face in the pulpit varied each week (when they could get anyone to come at all), but the one symbol that held them together during that time was the fact that they closed each service with that same sung benediction.  That’s a tradition that means something.  They know exactly why they do it.  Ironically, that same awareness of tradition has allowed them the freedom to let that practice go.  This year, for the first time, we’re not singing it.

G.K. Chesterton called tradition “The Democracy of the Dead”.  I love that.  I want to preserve a sense of continuity with the Church Catholic from all times and places.  If anything, I’d like to see more tradition, not just Amazing Grace but also Phos Hilaron.  I long for us to constantly reopen the wells of living water dug by our ancestors.  Some of my folks dismiss practices like Sharing the Peace and weekly Eucharist without realizing their power as ancient traditions of the Church.

Jaroslav Pelikan once remarked that tradition is not “the dead faith of the living” but “the living faith of the dead”.  That’s what I want for my congregation.

 

 

 

Common Worship: From Revolution to Revelation

Re-blogged from the Presbyterian Hymnal Project Blog.

As a Presbyterian liturgical nerd and long-time fan of the Book of Common Worship, I find this exciting:

A guest post by David Gambrell from the Office of Theology and Worship:

Fifty years ago, something revolutionary happened in the world of Presbyterian worship.

In 1961, the UPCUSA (the former northern church) adopted a new Directory for Worship. For more than 300 years before that, the church had been relying on the Westminster Directory for Worship, written in 1645, making minor revisions here and there. The new Directory for Worship, written by Robert McAfee Brown, opened the door for radical, ecumenical liturgical reform and renewal in the Presbyterian Church—focusing on the centrality of the Word, a deeper understanding of Baptism, and more frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper. One church historian has suggested that this work might have had an influence on the groundbreaking Roman Catholic reforms of Vatican II, which took place a couple of years later.[1]

The PCUS (the former southern church) took a similar action in 1963, adopting their own new Directory for Worship. And then, as we know, twenty years later, in 1983, the northern and southern churches merged to form the current Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One of the often-forgotten products of that new blended family was our current Directory for Worship, formed from the combination of the previous two… (Click here to continue reading)

 

 

 

A Moment of Grace

‘Grace’, Painting by Krassimira Vidolovska. Used with permission under GDFL.

What really happens in the worship experience?  Regardless of one’s theological orientation – humanist, theist, Buddhist, pagan – there is often an unspoken encounter with an unseen order.  For the theist, that order is the reality of God.  For the Buddhist, it is an awareness of no separation between self and everything else.  For the humanist, it may be acknowledging our individual roles in the larger body of humanity.  For the pagan, it is the spiritual reality within the natural world.  Wherever one places one’s faith, the deepest experience that happens in worship is often unseen.  A worship leader can follow the prescribed steps in preparing for worship, and the result can still be uninspiring.  The candles can be lit, the incense smoldering, the words written down carefully, the scripture thoughtfully exegeted – and there can still be no transformative moment in the service…

At a transformative moment, a constellation of tradition, relationships, meanings, hopes, and fears is present in the worshiping community.  There is the covenant that each individual has committed to honor and engage as a member of the community.  There also has to be something that none of the practices, preparations, and participation in covenantal community can create – and that is a moment of grace.

Wayne Arnason & Kathleen Rolenz, Worship That Works, 139-140

The Erotic Spirit

The first week of spring has felt more like the first week of summer in New York.  We’ve had temperatures in the 80s most days.  This is unheard of in a land where I’ve preached Easter sermons under a blanket of snow.

I’ve come to love spring over the last ten years or so.  It started when I was living in Vancouver, where spring’s arrival is loudly announced by the explosion of cherry blossoms and the rhododendrons just outside my apartment window.  The combined effect is like floral fireworks.

Flowers aren’t the only things popping out either.  I’ve noticed that, as human beings emerge from hibernation, they have some kind of instinctual urge to get out of their clothes in public.  They do it while jogging, sunning, or going to class.

I like to say, “It’s mating season for the earthbound human!”  I stole and adapted that phrase from a movie in the 90s.  While sometimes annoying, this tendency never fails to be entertaining.

Earlier this week, the weather being what it is, I decided to take my work out of the office to the lake.  Grading papers, prepping for next week’s lectures, and quietly meditating.  Not normally sexually charged activities.  I was rather surprised to find, on a weekday afternoon, our wannabe naturists already out in force with all the coy subtlety of Britney Spears’ famous claims to virginity.

In years past, I probably would have stormed off in a self-righteous huff, annoyed at the distractions while I was trying to get work done or “be spiritual” (whatever the hell that means).  It reminds me of something Rich Mullins said (I think he stole it from Tony Campolo).  I paraphrase:

“If you’re a [straight] guy on a beach and a young woman walks by in a bikini and that doesn’t do something for you, that doesn’t mean you’re spiritual.  It means you’re dead.”

So, in the interest of (a.) reminding myself that I’m not dead and (b.) liberating myself from old habits of belief and behavior, I decided to stay where I was and see if it was possible to be spiritual and sexual at the same time.  To many out there, this will probably come across as rather basic, but it’s still a new concept for me, thanks to my previously disembodied (my seminary prof, Loren Wilkinson, would call it gnostic) orientation toward all things theological.

What I discovered in that moment was happily surprising.  I began to recall particular prayers of thanksgiving from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.  In one prayer, we express gratitude for “All beauty that delights us…” and in another, “The treasure stored in every human life…”

I began thinking about the Greek word Eros.  It’s one of several words that sometimes gets translated as Love.  It’s where we get the English word Erotic.  Eros is romantic love, desire, and attraction.  Matthew Fox and Diarmuid O’Murchu, who have written on this subject far more than me, like to emphasize Eros as creative love.  It simultaneously includes and transcends animal lust.  I’m currently coming to believe that lust is neither foreign nor antithetical to love unless the two are deliberately divorced in the name of either licentious selfishness or “purity” (which can become a form of religiously legitimated selfishness).

I found myself saying prayers of gratitude for that indefinable magnetism that draws human beings together.  It drives us to know one another fully.  No other single psychic factor is so motivating.  We yearn for intimacy, not only in our minds and spirits, but in our bodies as well.

The coming together of human beings (in the lab, studio, classroom, boardroom, or bedroom) is inherently life-giving and creative.  It’s also complex, tricky, messy, and requires lots of skill and commitment in order to be fulfilling in the long-term.  I pray that we would learn how to honor the meaning of our connections with each other so that we might sustain the beauty we have created.  In this sense, all of life is as erotic as it is spiritual.

As my time of meditation at the lake came to a close, I surveyed the trees, the water, and the hills of the earth around me.  I thought about the Jewish creation myth depicted in the first chapter of Genesis.  Delirious in the pulsating and passionate throes of creation’s rhythm, God cries out repeatedly in climactic pleasure, “It’s good!  It’s good!  It’s SO good!”

Elements of Worship: Sacrament

This week’s sermon from First Presbyterian, Boonville.

The text is I Corinthians 11:23-26.

Click here to listen to this sermon at fpcboonville.org

“ACHOO!”

“Bless you!”

Gyula Derkovits, 'The Last Supper'

Do you know why people say that when someone sneezes?  The practice goes back almost to the time of Christ, but nobody knows for sure how or why it got started.  There are a number of interesting theories out there.  Some think it started during an outbreak of the bubonic plague as a way of commending people to God’s care when nothing more could be done for them (i.e. “It’s been nice knowing you”).  Tibetan Buddhists believed that sneezing provides a moment of “clear consciousness” (like dying, falling asleep, or meditating) during which one might be able to achieve Enlightenment.  But my favorite explanation is this one: when you sneeze, your soul is temporarily dislodged from your body.  The blessing makes it go back in so that the devil won’t come and possess you.

That’s just one example of the kinds of crazy superstitions that we got rid of at the end of the middle ages in western society.  We might still say “bless you” when somebody sneezes, but I seriously doubt that anyone still believes that it’s your soul trying to leave your body.  We needed to get rid of that superstition (along with several others).  I, for one, am glad that our society no longer burns women at the stake because “they might be witches.”

The light of reason brought us out of those dark ages and into the modern era, where humanity has grown by leaps and bounds.  We’ve landed on the moon and created a global communication network so efficient that I could just flip out my phone and have a conversation with someone in India if I felt like it.  Letting go of these old superstitions has, on the whole, been a good thing.  But, like everything else in this world, our so-called Enlightenment has its dark side.  We now live in a world that is “disenchanted”.  We’ve lost that sense of meaning and connectedness with the world around us.  We no longer see spirits and fairies in the trees and rivers.  If we think of God at all, it is as some distant and abstract Creator who has little or nothing to do with the world as we know it.  Naïve superstition gives way to cynical materialism and we see ourselves as random collections of atoms that just conveniently happen to make consciousness possible.  The world around us becomes an empty shell of resources just waiting to be exploited for profit.  Human life becomes equally meaningless under this mindset.  What matters is gaining the upper hand in the ongoing battle for survival (which we all eventually lose).

In reaction to this sinister cynicism, some religious folks have chosen to side with the aforementioned distant Creator.  They gather round their campfires and sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through” and “Some bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”  These folks want to save their souls from this wicked world in order to enjoy the blessings of some far-off heaven for eternity.  This perspective may seem more like faithfulness at first, but it nevertheless leaves this world looking just as empty and meaningless as cynical materialism does.  It is the advocates of this kind of escapism who shout things like, “Drill, baby drill!” and figure, “This whole world is going to hell anyway, so why bother to take care of it?”

We needed to drop the ridiculous superstition of the middle ages, but I wonder if maybe we threw out the baby with the bathwater?  Secular and religious folks alike have lost all sense of connectedness to God, the earth, and each other.  Both sides are saying that this earth just doesn’t matter.

Is there some way to reconnect with that larger sense of meaning and mystery in the cosmos without going back to that ridiculous superstition?  I think so.

We’re currently in the middle of a five-week sermon series on the Elements of Worship.  We’ve already looked at the Word, prayer, and service as Elements of Worship.  Next week, we’ll be talking about relationship.  This week, we’re talking about sacrament.

The word sacrament comes from a Latin word that means mystery.  When Christians talk about sacraments, they’re typically referring to one of two church events: Baptism and the Eucharist (a.k.a. the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion).  A few weeks ago, we had a service where talked about the sacrament of Baptism at length in the sermon.  We even baptized three new people into our congregation.  So this week, I’m mainly going to focus on sacrament of the Eucharist (which we happen to be celebrating in our service later today).

In the sacrament (mystery) of the Eucharist, we celebrate three realities.  First, we remember Jesus: who he is and what he did.  Jesus revealed the heart of God to the world in a way that no one else ever has.  He “gave himself for us” in a life of service and love.  We participate in that act of self-giving when we remember him and receive his gift of himself, his body and blood, into our own bodies.

Second, we participate in a present reality.  Remember the old saying, “You are what you eat”?  Well, it’s true.  We are the body of Christ.  Through him, we are also part of each other: one loaf, one cup, one body, one family.  They also say that “blood is thicker than water”.  In this case, the blood of Christ is thicker than our own blood.  The blood of Christ flows in our veins.  Gone is any illusion of pedigree, race, nationality, status, or caste.  As Christians, this is where our loyalty lies.  This is where our true identity is to be found.  Blood is thicker than water and this blood is thickest of all.  When we target, discriminate against, or otherwise antagonize those who have been to the table of Christ with us, we are turning our backs on our own kin.  This is a truth worth remembering whenever we are next tempted to divide the world into “us” and “them”.

Finally, Christians at the Lord’s table anticipate the future with hope.  Christ told his disciples that he would drink wine with them next when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.  The end of history is often described in the scriptures as a fully-catered wedding reception.  The bread and wine we now eat and drink around this table is a foretaste of that coming celebration when all things are made new, justice and equality are established on earth, and (as it says in Revelation) “God will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”  When the tides of despair threaten to overwhelm us, we have these edible tokens to hold onto.  They are the aperitifs of the heavenly banquet.

In the Eucharist, we are fed with spiritual food.  This sacrament, I think, holds the key to reconnecting us with our lost sense of wonder and mystery.  Without it, Christian faith too easily becomes just one more product for sale in the modern marketplace of ideas.  With it, we are able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Through this sacrament, we touch the mystery of Love that springs from the very heart of the universe and reaches out to its edges.  Just as we say in the Great Thanksgiving, I invite you to “Lift up your hearts” to see that “heaven and earth are full of [God’s] glory”.

How do we do this?  How can we “lift up our hearts”?  Well, I think we can start by simply celebrating the sacrament as often as we can.  As recently as the 1970s, most Presbyterian congregations celebrated the Eucharist only four times a year.  Since then, the frequency has increased.  Most of our churches celebrate it monthly.  More and more, there are churches in our denomination that are beginning to celebrate the sacrament on a weekly basis.  In our church, that is a decision for the session of elders to make.  I would like to encourage those of you who are currently serving as elders to meditate on this and consider increasing the frequency with which we celebrate communion.  In our Book of Order it says that the Eucharist “shall be celebrated regularly and frequently enough so that it is clear to all that the Lord’s Supper is integral to worship, and not an addition to it.”

We Presbyterians are used to thinking of our Sunday worship as revolving around the central event of reading and preaching God’s Word.  This is true.  But it’s also true that we worship in a binary system.  Our liturgy revolves around the twin stars of Word and Sacrament.  They are meant to go together.  John Calvin, one of the founders of our tradition, urged his churches in Geneva to celebrate Communion weekly.  Calvin told them that, yes, the scriptures make up the foundation of the church, but the sacraments are its pillars.  The church won’t stand up without both to support it.  Let’s make sure that we are not starving ourselves of Christ’s spiritual food and drink.

The moment of real transformation comes when we begin to see the presence of Christ, not just in this bread and wine, but everywhere we look.  This is what it means to “lift up your hearts” and see that “heaven and earth are full of [God’s] glory,” as it says in the liturgy.  The more regularly we honor the presence of the sacred mystery in this bread, the more we will begin to see it in all bread.  And we will see that, like this consecrated bread, all bread is meant to be shared.  So let’s share our bread with those who are hungry.  And I’m not just talking about literal bread either: let’s share the bread of freedom and equality with all.  Let’s learn to share the bread of work, education, healthcare, and housing with those who are also our brothers and sisters.  They are God’s children and we are one family.  This sharing is a sacramental sharing.  It’s an integral part of what we do here on Sunday.

This whole universe is sacred.  It is infused with divine glory from stem to stern.  Our celebration of the sacraments helps us reconnect with that mystery.  Let’s make that connection as deeply and as often as possible, so that it might stay with us as we go out from this place to share our bread with the hungry and be the body of Christ in the world.

Lift up your hearts.  Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory.  Let us give thanks.

Elements of Worship: Prayer

This week’s sermon from First Pres, Boonville.  2nd of 5 in a series on the Elements of Worship.

The text is Matthew 6:5-15.

Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian social reformer, once said something quite profound when someone asked him what he thought of Christianity.  He said, “I like your Christ but I don’t like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  In a similar vein, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said to a group of Christians (in his typically caustic fashion), “Yuck, you make me sick!  Because you redeemed don’t look like you’re redeemed!”

While these comments are more than a little bit harsh, I think we Christians have to admit they are also more than a little bit true.  For a long time, Christians have held onto a crazy idea that we are the guardians of infallible doctrine and impeccable morals.  The end result of this idea is that the rest of the world has come to see Christians, not as messengers of good news and amazing grace, but as “sour-faced saints” with their halos screwed on just a little too tight.  Under these circumstances, church becomes little more than a “holy club” for people with an answer for every question and a solution to every problem.

Is this who we’re meant to be?  I think not.  Consider Nietzsche and Gandhi’s words in reverse: how would you describe someone who “looks like” he or she is “redeemed”?  Can you imagine what it would be like to live in moment-to-moment awareness of the truth that within, behind, and beyond the apparently random facts of life there is, at the very heart of the universe, a “Love that will not let me go”?

Christians (in their better moments) believe there has been at least one such life in the course of human history.  By this, I am referring of course to the life of Jesus.  Folks come out in droves to celebrate with us at Christmas and Easter the beginning and the end of Jesus’ thirty-something years on Earth (and we’re delighted to welcome them on those days).  But there are, of course, fifty other Sundays of the year when we celebrate everything that happened in the middle!  Jesus’ amazing life is something worth remembering, celebrating, and imitating all year long.  There is something so wonderful about the life of Jesus that even Gandhi, a devout Hindu, sat up and took notice.

“I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”

What was it about the life of Jesus that caught Gandhi’s attention?  What kind of moment-to-moment awareness of Love’s presence did Jesus live with?  One phrase that he liked to use more than any other was “the kingdom of heaven.”  For him, this wasn’t some far away realm where angels played harps on clouds, but a very present reality.  For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven was very near, “at hand,” closer to every atom than its own nucleus, closer to every person than her own soul.  If you asked him to describe it, he would start telling stories about the things he saw around him.  Jesus saw heaven everywhere: a farmer sowing seed, a woman baking bread, a merchant buying pearls, a shepherd tending sheep, a woman sweeping her house out, birds that nest, seeds that grow, and flowers that bloom.  For Jesus, the question isn’t “where is heaven?”  For Jesus, the question is “where isn’t heaven?”  This is the kind of life that Jesus lived: a moment-to-moment awareness of the truth that within, behind, and beyond the apparently random facts of life there is, at the very heart of the universe, a “Love that will not let me go.”

“Believe the good news,” he said, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This week is the second in a five week series of sermons on the elements of worship.  We’re looking at who, what, when, and where but also (most importantly) why we do what we do each week in church.  Last week, we talked about the Word of God, found in (but not mistaken for) the words of the scriptures, which forms a kind of central fulcrum around which the rest of our liturgy revolves.  This week, we’re talking about prayer.  In the coming weeks, we’ll cover service, sacrament, and relationship.

I began this week’s discussion on prayer by describing the kind of life that Jesus lived: a life of moment-to-moment spiritual awareness.  In doing this, I kind of started at the end.  This is the point to which we will return.  This moment-to-moment spiritual awareness, demonstrated and embodied in the life of Jesus, is the purpose of all prayer and the final destination of every praying person.

But before we get back to that central point: a few words about what prayer is not.  First, prayer is not magic.  There are many churches and organizations out there who teach that if you pray for something long enough, hard enough, or in a particular way, you will (or should) always get what you want.  Many prominent televangelists and proponents of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” have made use of this idea as a fund-raising strategy.  The most corrupt among them have willingly and knowingly manipulated people into giving up their money as a “seed of faith” in exchange for some sort of miracle.  A private investigation of one such organization during the 1990s found that the donations were being sent to a bank where the checks were deposited and prayer requests were simply thrown into the trash.

A further problem with the “prayer is magic” approach is how it deals with the inevitable question: “What happens when we don’t get what we pray for?”  This is not so big a deal when we’re talking about some trivial thing that the heart desires, but it becomes a big deal when we’re praying about things that really do matter: What happens when the cancer doesn’t go into remission?  What happens when the child isn’t found alive?  These are big questions that make a big problem for those who subscribe to the idea that prayer is magic.  Sadly, there are those in this group who answer this question by blaming the victim.  “Oh well,” they say, “I guess you just didn’t have enough faith.”  If you’ve ever had someone say that to you, let me be blunt and tell you that it’s nothing but a load of baloney.  It’s a lie from the pit of hell.  Don’t believe it.  There are many stories in the gospels of Jesus working miracles for people, but never once does he look an individual person in the eye and say, “Go away.  You don’t have enough faith.”  Don’t take my word for it, go and look it up for yourself.

In response to this obviously destructive idea that prayer is magic, many other folks have adopted the very modern notion that prayer isn’t actually anything at all.  They would say that prayer is a placebo.  For those who might not be familiar with that term, the Placebo Effect is an event that doctors have noticed during clinical trials of experimental medications.  When they’re testing a new drug, they run a test where half of the people are given the real medicine and the other half are given a sugar pill (i.e. placebo) that looks like the real thing but doesn’t actually do anything to your body.  Nobody knows which pill they’re getting.  What the doctors found is that the patients who received the placebo nevertheless showed signs of improvement.  The mind was tricked into believing that it was receiving a new medical treatment that would make the body feel better.  So strong was this mental expectation that the body responded by feeling better, even when there was no actual medicine involved.  This is known as the Placebo Effect.

Those who view prayer as a placebo see it in the same way.  They think that prayer is just a mental exercise that people undertake in order to make themselves feel better.  It would be foolish, they say, to think that God would intervene to make a difference in human circumstances.  Honestly, the idea that prayer is a placebo makes me just as uncomfortable as the idea that prayer is magic.  I have a hard time believing that this universe is a closed and mechanical system with nothing beyond itself.  I think that God is real, that God does care about our pain, and that God does make a difference in this world.  I feel stuck between unfounded idealism on the one hand and hard-nosed cynicism on the other.  I can’t claim to have the final answer to this conundrum, but I have a hunch that the reality of prayer is actually a mystery that somehow encompasses and yet transcends both of ends of the ideological spectrum.

The Presbyterian Book of Order defines prayer as “a conscious opening of the self to God.”  I really like that.  It reminds me of the first verse from our beloved hymn: “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, Opening to the sun above.”  While I do believe that prayer can and does make a tangible difference in this life and this world, I don’t see that as the reason why we pray.

Even though it’s become kind of a dirty word (even in church), I have to admit that I like the term religion.  It comes from a Latin word that means “to reconnect”.  Thanks to online tools like Facebook, people all over the world today are enjoying that feeling of reconnecting with old friends from days gone by.  It’s the same way with religious practices.  Through them, we find ways to reconnect with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and the universe as a whole.

Now, I should qualify that statement by saying that I don’t believe we are ever completely disconnected from God in an absolute sense.  The scriptures tell us that it is in God that we “live, move, and have our being,” that God is “above all, through all, and in all,” and that “from God, through God, and to God are all things.”  When we reconnect with God, we are reconnecting with that which is already nearer to every atom than its own nucleus and closer to every person than her own soul.  It would be more proper to say that through prayer and other religious practices, we are nurturing our conscious connection with God.  Prayer brings us to an awareness of the Reality in which we already live, move, and have our being.

There are many ways that we seek to nurture this conscious reconnection in our public worship.  First of all, there are those parts of our service that are explicitly referred to as prayer.  In our Call to Worship, we acknowledge God’s presence and invite God to work in us whatever needs to happen in order for us to become the kind of loving and compassionate people that God wants us to be.  In our prayer of Confession, we acknowledge our shortcomings and celebrate God’s undying and redeeming love.  Confession is not about guilt and fear.  Confession is about honesty and trust that God never gives ever up on us.  In the prayer for Illumination, as we talked about last week, we ask the Spirit of God to enlighten our hearts and minds so that we can hear, believe, and follow God’s Word.  In the prayers of the People, we lift up to God our specific needs and concerns, trusting that God is working in us and in the world to bring peace and wholeness to all.  In the prayer of Thanksgiving, we raise a voice of gratitude for all the goodness we see in the world around us and we dedicate our lives to cooperating with God’s work in the world.  Finally, we gather all our various prayers into one great prayer that Jesus taught his disciples: the Lord’s Prayer.  There is so much to be said here, but time grows short and the hour grows late.  I will leave most of that for another sermon on another day.  For now, I’ll simply say that this one prayer encompasses all the other forms of prayer that I have already mentioned.  We say it by rote week after week, but I encourage you, as an extended meditation exercise, to stop sometime and really think about what you are saying: “Our Father, who art in heaven: hallowed be thy name…”

Not all prayer involves words or speech.  Music itself is a form of prayer, even when it is purely instrumental.  The preludes, hymns, anthems, offertories, and postludes of our worship service are not provided for your entertainment.  They are prayers in themselves.  The beautiful arrangement of sound into organized tones called music is meant to guide you and me into and through the present moment to the eternal mystery in which it rests.  Can you resonate with the music of the spheres?  Can you imagine, during an organ solo, the life-giving harmonies of our delicately balanced solar system?  Music, as a form of prayer, leads us beyond ourselves to participate in a larger reality.  A theologian once said, “The one who sings prays twice.”

Prayer can also be undertaken in total silence.  No words are necessary.  Sitting quietly for an extended period of time and focusing on the unconscious rhythm of each God-given breath is a form of prayer.  This kind of prayer, called contemplative prayer, lets go of all doing in favor of just being with God in the present moment.

“Prayer is a conscious opening of the self to God.”  In its various forms, we reconnect with that which is deepest in us and the universe.  We move beyond just “knowing about God” through dogma and theology.  We come to “know God” in a direct and mystical sense.  Through the regular practice of prayer, our lives begin to look more like Jesus’ life: living in that moment-to-moment spiritual awareness of the Love in which we live, move, and have our being.