Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
In my last blog entry, I wrote about the way silence opens a door to a deeply experienced relationship with God. I've since been reading a book called Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality. AuthorJ. Brent Bill explains the centrality of silence in Quaker worship. As you may know, most of a Quaker meeting is spent sitting together in silence, each person anticipating and expecting the Holy Spirit to be present.
Of course, this expectation is true of any Christian worship service.
Scripture says that where two or three gather in God's name, God is there. And so we, too, come together to experience the Spirit of Jesus Christ among us at First Presbyterian Church. For us, worship usually includes singing, praying aloud, and hearing The Word proclaimed, with occasional moments of silence. But for Quakers, silence is the worship service.
Since I grew up in a Quaker church, I've enjoyed learning more about the theology that shaped my early experiences of faith. Our little church didn't hold silent meetings, but other aspects of Quaker theology were there: little ornamentation-no cross or stained glass windows. No baptism or communion, no robes or collars on the preachers. No observation of holy days beyond Christmas and Easter. Our services were "low church"-worship with no ritual and very little liturgy beyond saying The Lord's Prayer.
Perhaps this is why I was drawn to the Roman Catholic Church during my college years. The "high church" rituals of the Mass were so mysterious, and completely new to me. The unchanging patterns of liturgy. Kneeling. Making the sign of the cross. Sharing Holy Communion at every service. Chants and formal prayers. And on special days, incense and bells! When I gathered with others to share the experience of these rituals, it was easy for me to feel God's presence in my life, at a time when I really needed it.
I'm thinking of these different forms of worship, and the theology behind them, because as I write this entry, Notre Dame in Paris is burning.
I've only seen pictures of the cathedral, only experienced it secondhand. But, as I'm sure was true for many of us, seeing the fire rage in that holy, iconic space brought tears to our eyes. Watching the spire collapse was painful in a way that I can only compare to a much more tragic event-the collapse of the twin towers.
When Harry and I were in Italy, we spent time in many churches, the magnificent as well as the humble. The village of Assisi, alone, has at least ten churches, some dating from the 10th century. Searching for a Protestant service while there, we worshiped with an Anglican (Church of England) congregation in a building constructed by the Romans five centuries ago!
Sitting quietly in those sacred spaces, where for centuries so many have experienced the living God, was deeply moving. I can only imagine the pain and sense of loss for those who have experienced that powerful spiritual connection in Notre Dame Cathedral.
When Harry and I were in Florence, we attended a mass under the enormous dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as Il Duomo. This was high church! The service began with glorious sound echoing throughout the space: Gregorian chant, bells pealing from the tower, booming music from an enormous pipe organ. Candles, incense, and eight priests in vestments ranging from the simple to the elaborately embellished. Of course, everything was in Italian-including the rather lengthy homily. Though we understood very few of the words, the mystery and majesty of God were never more real for us. We left knowing we had worshiped!
Do we need buildings for worship? Of course not-nor does worship require spoken words, music, robes or kneeling benches. All we need are open hearts and minds, souls that thirst for God's presence, and a desire to praise and thank God for... well, just about everything.
I hope that you've attended a LIFT (Living In Faith Together) service at our church, when we come together as always to worship God, but in ways that are new and different for us. If you're like me, you probably have some favorite forms of worship; it's likely that we all prefer the familiar, the comfortable.
But all worship-whether low church or high, in English or another language, in a humble chapel or a breath-taking cathedral, around tables in the sanctuary or in rows of chairs-all worship glorifies the God who has loved us since the dawn of Creation.
Let us pray in gratitude for all sacred spaces, and for the God who meets us there.
Let us pray for the restoration of the glory of Notre Dame.
Let us pray for all who worship.
And let us pray for our own worshiping community, as we continue to grow in God's Love.
Amen, and many blessings,