Placing our praise and worship of God in the context of the community of creation is really a recurring theme in Scripture. Genesis 1 places the central act of Hebrew worship – Shabbat, or Sabbath, the resting from work one day in seven previously a celebration of God freeing Israel from slavery – into the context of creation. God rested on the seventh day, so when the people of Israel worship by joining in Shabbat they are finding their place in creation, in nature, alongside the many hued and sized creatures of earth, sky, and sea and alongside the creating God. Likewise in Colossians, Romans, and Ephesians the work of Christ which opens up the Sabbath rest of those of us who identify as followers of Christ is identified as redeeming not just we erring humans but all of struggling hurting creation from the smallest ants to the largest whale, from the smallest atom to the swirling galaxies. When worship is described in Revelation in terms of “singing a new song” it is seen as the people of God joining in the songs of angel, archangel, and heavenly creatures.
This sets a context for our acts of worship. There was a time I remember hearing friends who were not people of faith questioning “Why would God command you to worship Him? If He’s so great, how is His ego so small that he needs the constant patting on the bag of a bunch of fanboys and fangirls?”
I have to admit a part of me winced when I heard that. I’d grown up being taught on my grandma’s knee to thank and praise God for God’s gifts. It made as much sense to me as breathing, but that question brought up something I’d never thought of. Why should I praise and thank God? It didn’t make sense for God to need my thanks. That would make God an insecure, needy guy not an all-loving, all-powerful Creator. Such a god would not be worthy of the all-caps title “God” let alone my worship.
To me texts like Psalm 148 and the others I list remind me that God does not need our worship. We, however, need to worship. We need to find ways to connect ourselves with the great dance of life which is all about us. Other creatures, so far all most of us have encountered are creatures that by nature join the dance. They by instinct and genetics (and apparently through epigenetics) find the role in life they were created for. When they do, their life and the life of others around them flourish.
But unless the visions of angels mystics have had and of aliens some contemporaries report are literally true (and who knows if they are or are not?) we are alone in the world of the nature we’ve experienced as being able to opt out of the cycle of nature, the patterns of life. God created us as co-creators with God, with the potential to participate in the shaping of our world, in the building of beauty, in the healing of nature. Our artwork, our music, our parks and farms, our beautiful buildings and some of our technology, are part of this co-creating. Scientists tell us even our beloved dogs are a part of this co-creation, having co-evolved with us when we began to domesticate them into breeds that barely resemble God’s original design. I’m thankful for puppies, and think they are a picture of the great potential when we use our freedom to co-create with God in ways that birth beauty.
Yet this same potential allows us to opt out of the dance of life, to push against it, using our freedom in ways that tear apart the fabric of life in small and big ways. We see this in our creating the atom bomb, chemical warfare, mass genocide. We see it in how we have put to waste the earth and as mentioned in the book The Sixth Extinction have warped nature so that we have polluted the earth, causing a mass species die-off. The consequences for losing our place in the dance of life which God invites us into are drastic.
Worship is not just about saying gratitude to God but learning to sit in wonder before God, the gifts of life and freedom God gives us and all creation. It is learning to see ourselves as a part of a web of life that was woven by the One pictured in Scriptures like Psalm 139 as the great Weaver-Woman God. It is learning to find our place in the pattern of life which God has woven into the core of creation.
At times singing hymns, prayers, and having ceremonies actually deaden us to this. Let’s not forget that often it is people of faith, including Christians, who are careless to the earth, to other creatures, and to our neighbors. In fact we Christians and people of Abrahamic faiths have some blame in twisting the texts that speak of our place in creation to argue not for our need to be care-takers who preserve the diversity of creation but instead to be ones who use it heartlessly for ourselves.
True worship can include hymn-singing, prayers, and ceremonies. At its heart thought is beginning to see that golden thread that flows through and is woven into every life, uniting all of creation. Scripture tells us that this life that unites us all is an expression of the Holy Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being. Seeing ourselves as interconnected with all creation through worship whether that is ancient prayers, contemporary songs, or simply sitting at the sea side or on the mountain peaks in awe of God’s creation draws us into becoming one’s committed to helping embrace life in the midst of death, healing of creation and people in the midst of decay, and working to curb death-dealing practices that increase pollution for ones that help heal our earth and ourselves.
Let us learn to embrace such worship, worship that sets us free, that sets other’s free, that helps free our earth and all creation.
Your progressive preacher,