Worship is like a breathing spell in a long and arduous foot race, or the hour of roll call in a prolonged and hard-fought battle: — it is altogether indispensable to sane and wholesome living— it is important enough in life to warrant the erection of classical temples and Gothic cathedrals. It is indeed so important that one finds one’s self sometimes wondering how any of us can afford to do anything but educate ourselves in this art. — To be effectively a person and thereby help others to be persons is the sum of abiding satisfactions in life. Worship in the sense of this aim is natural and necessary, and in the Great Community all mature people worship. Its objectives are not absolutely fixed as to their content.—Von Ogden Vogt (born February 25, 1879)
I came across this post at the The Liberal Lectionary. If you are not familiar with this new site, I highly recommend it. This site posts quotes by people who have influenced Unitarian Universalist theology in myriad of ways.
Von Ogden Vogt was a Unitarian Minister who served the First Unitarian Society of Chicago in the early to mid 20th century. He is best remembered for his legacy of how Unitarians and now Unitarian Universalists worship. See The Contribution of Von Ogden Vogt.
The quote listed above has my mind thinking about worship as respite. There are many excellent texts on how we worship today and these texts include best practices as it were or various components of a worship service. These are important technical aspects of a worship service as if that is all that is really happening. But I have had the experience, I am sure many of my colleagues have as well, when a service from a technological stand point ( I do not just mean the sound systems or the use of power-point when I use the word technological) bombs and bombs big time and people will come up to me and state how profoundly moved they were in this particular service. Their hearts were moved, a barrier in their lives shifted, they found strength to go back to their lives with renewed hope and vigor.
I am amazed when grace somehow manages to work its way through this feeble vessel that contains my being to touch another’s life. So worship is not simply a rote set of movements or acts as Von Ogden Vogt delineated the service. It is something far more than the sum of its parts. It is this “breathing spell” as Von Ogden Vogt calls it that allows for the individual and the community present to feel renewed, recharged, reborn before re-engaging that arduous footrace or on-going and prolonged battle we call living the day to day.
So this question arises: What brings people to worship together in Unitarian Universalist congregations? What gives us that breathing spell? What offers that sense of respite?
Perhaps part of this respite comes from the notion that for one hour at the minimum is focused not entirely on ourselves but on others. We focus on the well being of those around us. We listen to the words the minister or speaker is saying (or am I in denial?). We hear songs that reflect various angles of the theme of the day. We are affirmed by others. We are seen as being worthy in the eyes of others and perhaps even in our own eyes. There has been a meme floating around Facebook that states something like “if you are feeling discouraged go encourage someone.”
Worship offers the possibility of even when we are feeling low and broken our presence, our very presence can be a source of encouragement to another to carry on. And that act of encouragement reverberates back to us and gives us respite from our pain, our brokenness. We do not know how our presence and some off the cuff comment can be the very breath of life another needs. Our participation in a communal worship helps in offering this to others, even happening without our awareness.
Some worship spaces are majestic in and of themselves. Those who have been at First Unitarian Society in Chicago’s Hyde Park know the vaulted ceilings, the stone walls, the slate floors, the commanding pulpit set high above the people seated in the pews. The building itself inspires awe and eternal reverence of a people who came before and hints at the people who may come in the distant future. These are the halls where Von Ogden Vogt and James Luther Adams preached. Where contemporary ministers like Mark Morrison Reed sang choir as a child and where Bill Schulz attended when he was in seminary at Meadville Lombard Theological School. To enter such a space where these and others have had their formation as ministers, have been influenced by such thinkers and bastions of the faith can be in and of itself, a worshipful respite that feeds and nurtures the spirit.
Worship for Unitarian Universalists is not the lifting up a deity instead worship for Unitarian Universalists is as Von Ogden Vogt suggests a time for the gathered community to celebrate life . In that celebration of life, whether it is the joyous or the grieving aspects, we find respite by holding up the values and the actions they promote in our lives that will make our journey all the more meaningful. May we all find respite for our journeys and may we find companions to aid us along the way.