Languages of Worship

During Sunday School this weekend I sort of zoned out.  The teacher was talking about worship and what it meant to worship and I was expecting any minute for someone to say, “The Bible dictionary defines worship as blah blah blah.” I lifted the little bag of Lindt chocolate to decide which flavor I’d eat next (my reward for being a woman!), but before I could disengage further, my friend Colleen raised her hand and said a bunch of awesome stuff. Her main point was that there are many “languages of worship,” just as there are “love languages,” like preferring service, gifts, touch, etc. as a means of expressing our affection, of course there must be various means of expressing worship.  Here are some she mentioned along with a couple of my additions:

Music: For many churchgoers, music is the language of the spirit. In the preface of our hymnbook it states: “Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.”  Lots of us feel closer to God when singing than when doing anything else. I am always touched at the Exponent Retreat when many women are move beyond words as we unite in voice. I am not one of these people. However, when I hear Pandora Brewer sing “Hie to Kolob,” I am converted. At least temporarily.

Intellectual: These souls are fed through lively intellectual discourse.  These are the saints who sit on the edge of the pew when there’s a powerhouse speaker who knows their doctrine cold and uses their field of expertize to illuminate and expand our understanding. These folks love the gospel doctrine class that digs deep and isn’t afraid to leave the manual behind.  The Spirit of God is intelligence.

Symbol/ritual: Mormons love to poo poo other faiths’ reliance on ritual.  But symbol plays a large role in our church as well, and there are many saints who crave it.  The sacrament is the pinnacle and purpose of our weekly worship service and people will go to great lengths to partake of it each week. Additionally the temple is obviously rich in symbol. I remember thinking when I first took out my endowment, “So HERE  is where all the ritual has been hiding…”  Many of my friends’ parents are motivated socially by ritual as well and only visit grandkids when there’s a blessing, baptism, or priesthood advancement occurring. Substitute ordinance for ritual, and this is the thing that holds it all together for some folks.

Emotion/Empathy: For other saints certain emotions facilitate the spirit.  When talks and testimonies contain personal, moving stories, these guys FEEL the connection. Sometimes we tease these folks for being quick to tears, but that is their way of manifesting they feel the Spirit, so cut them some slack.  These passionate saints worship with all their heart, love hearing and telling tender stories, and have empathy to spare. This style makes me think of the prophet, Thomas Monson.

Service– Some saints are doers. They are forever in motion and need to be actively serving to feel they are worshiping.  These are the folks who magnify the callings that have them helping/teaching/working with others. I have one such friend who doesn’t show up on Sunday if she doesn’t have a purpose. These are the gems who show up with meals and help you pack. Not that other people won’t, but the servers among us do it not out of obligation, but because it brings them closer to the Lord. “Unto the least of these…”

Meditation: I debated whether I should label this as prayer, but meditation seemed to be a bigger umbrella for the ways in which many of us worship through quiet, mindful, often solitary practices. My father loved to sit for hours in his study and read the scriptures. He would never have used the word “meditate” but he’d emerge as peaceful and centered as a yogi. During the sacrament this week I glanced at the brother behind me and was struck by his posture. Back erect, eyes closed, hands resting palm up on his knees. His kids were bustling and for a second I thought he was asleep–but he was just so peaceful.  As I was trying to focus on renewing my own covenants it dawned on me that he was meditating, something that I do during the week when I want to connect with the divine. But it never occurred to me that I could bring that practice with me into my meetings.  Call it pondering things in your heart, communing with God, these guys are masters at internal reverence.

Obviously there are many other ways of worshipping, and most of us rely on more than one method to seek the divine. What was instructive to me about my friend’s comment was how different we all are in our spiritual quests and how important it is to allow for as many “worship languages” as possible during our services. I know I need to work on valuing the languages that are not my native tongue.

What language works best for you? What languages do you think are undervalued/underrepresented in LDS services? Which languages are privileged? How can we encourage languages that feel foreign?

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6 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    This is really interesting, Heather. Offhand, I think whatever language of worship works for me, it’s *not* spiritual. That is, I don’t get much out of meditation and scripture reading and the like.

    But I just like that you’ve raised the possibility of these being equally valid ways of worshipping. I sometimes feel frustrated in church in that it feels like the stuff that doesn’t work for me is privileged, although it might just be that I notice discussion of it because it doesn’t work for me, and it’s not that it’s actually being discussed more. Anyway, I think this is a great framework for thinking about how we can engage in worship even if it doesn’t match what we might traditionally think of as worship (i.e., the most dominant types).

    • Em says:

      I love this! My grandma went to church (not ours) for the music. She often closed her eyes and conducted from her seat, to the embarrassment of her children. I think music is something that is missing from our worship. We have a hymnal, but I feel sorry for it. We sing the same songs over and over. Few people know how to read music and so almost never sing the harmony. They also almost never sing the melody, too embarrassed that someone might hear their joyful noise. This lethargic approach is often exacerbated by extremely slow organ playing until the whole thing is hardly moving at all. Sometimes I think I’m outsinging the whole congregation, and I have been known to sway back and forth and make hand gestures to liven things up. I don’t care if people think I’m a weirdo. I also feel that we too often focus on the words and not on the actual music part. The words are important, but if we were singing “ahhh” with vim and vigor on pitch it would be as sacred to me. As a consequence some of the most beloved hymns are dear because of their words, in spite of the fact that the melody is repetitious (I’m looking at you, “I believe in Christ” and “I know that my Redeemer Lives”) Yet Kolob almost never gets sung because the words are a little strange even though the melody is more beautiful than most we have.

      Rant, rant, rant. I love the music part because the words can be damaging, but the notes are not. I ground my teeth when our closing hymn on Mothers Day started with “The world has need of willing men.” I sang “women” even though it doesn’t align. But melodies aren’t exclusive or hurtful. I make a little hobby out of trying to make our hymns gender inclusive while still rhyming and fitting in the rhythm.

    • Frances says:

      Thank you for sharing this. I am however amazed at how we refer to endowents (and other gifts) associated with the temple as something ‘we take out’. Under the heading Ritual/Symbol the writer says…”Additionally the temple is obviously rich in symbol. I remember thinking when I first took out my endowment…” Endowments and other gifts provided in the temples are GIFTS from God, not something we take out. As if it were a Take Away/Take Out store. Gifts are something we receive from someone, not take out from someone. The way in which we describe this shows disrespect and perhaps lack of understanding, ignorance, or of what the temple is and what it is about.

  2. liz johnson says:

    My friend once said that she felt that attending the temple was some people’s spiritual love language (but not hers) and I remember being completely struck by the idea. I think it’s such a beautiful concept! And I think it’s why we end up kind of frustrated with each other when others don’t value certain things the way we do – my husband doesn’t get a whole lot out of wrangling with the weird paradoxes in the doctrine, but I feel so close to God when I do! But he loves reading scriptures and pondering and being still, and I fall asleep three words in (or my mind ends up wandering to other places, like why didn’t I buy garlic when I was at the grocery store and I need to get my hair cut and, hey, look over there, a bird!).

    I think this is also why we end up with a rich variety of talks in conference – to appeal to everybody’s spirit languages. Some of the apostles/church leaders speak my spirit languages, and others don’t as much.

    Anyways, I love this post. And I love eating chocolate in Sunday School.

  3. Suzette Smith says:

    Great post, Heather.

    I love many of the languages of worship that I find in Mormonism. I love the hymns. I love reading scripture. I love to hear the faith experiences of others and share my own. I love the robes of the temple.

    I also love languages of worship in other religions. I love the loud songs of praise and the shouts of “amen” I find in the Baptist churches. I love the ceremony and the kneeling I find in Catholic churches. I’m really coming to love the symbol of the cross.

    I think we should celebrate faith in all its form. And the speak all the languages of worship that resonate with us.

  4. Marcus says:

    So when are you going to write a book about this? I literally googled this because it was in my spirit to talk to my wife about but since you beat us to the punch publish that thang. We need it desperately!

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