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?