WORD VIEW: The worshipper
An agnostic friend of mine is willing to concede that some Supreme Being may ultimately be responsible for the creation of the world, including a process of evolution. But, she argues, why would we make the leap from acknowledging that possibility, to worshipping this Creator, or God, as we say?
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the term “worship” as the feeling or expression of reverence or adoration for a deity. While my agnostic friend may have difficulty accepting the concept, research has apparently shown that the religious impulse that prompts us to worship the Creator is in fact “rooted in the brain”. In the book, Why God Won’t Go Away, neuroscientists and biologists Andrew Newburg, Eugene D’Aquill and Vince Rause have attempted to find the link between the brain and spirituality. In so doing, they studied the phenomena of hallucination, delusion and other forms of mental illness that involve the same area of the brain as religious or mystical experience.
Their findings revealed distinct differences from the responses above: “[G]enuine mystical experiences . . . may be produced by sound, healthy minds coherently reacting to perceptions that in neurobiological terms are absolutely real . . . [M]ystical experience] is nothing more or less than an uplifting sense of genuine spiritual union with something larger than the self.”
The reference to the “genuine” aspect of worship raises an interesting point. We know well enough the tendency to worship all manner of things: material possessions, money, social status, titles, systems, ideals, prestigious or famous individuals and so on. But if the impulse to worship is inherent, as has been argued by the researchers above, then it makes perfect sense to me that our worship was best directed towards something/someone greater than ourselves. After all, the above that are earthbound are all transitory, not to mention often unreliable and even deceptive.
One of the several benefits in worshipping the Creator, I believe, is that we bring a necessary balance to the way we see ourselves in the larger scheme of things. We may be a “piece of work” in the best sense, but we are equally, in human terms, the “quintessence of dust”. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, but at the same time we are often powerless in the face of natural disaster and the many other misfortunes that may confront us. Humility should indeed be the result of true worship.
In addition, the worshipper, I believe, has a greater capacity for gratitude and a more expansive vision of his or her world. In this regard, I’m curious about the responses of the agnostic or atheist, generally speaking. Whom do they thank for the awesome beauty of nature, for example? How do they respond to moments of transcendence, or to the sublime, as one philosopher describes it? Do they restrain themselves from reaching towards a higher consciousness, or have they long killed that instinct? I believe that in such moments described above, we know that we are spirit beings first and foremost. Our universe expands and we do not feel limited or constrained by our immediate circumstances.
Moreover, the worshipper is open to divine guidance. With the best minds, the greatest intellects, the most astute intelligences, the most cutting-edge information and the best will, we may still find ourselves clueless as to how to move forward in various situations. Circumstances, consequences of past and present actions, the attitudes and mindsets of others, unforeseen forces; all coalesce to create a quagmire from which we seem unable to escape – we’re trapped by our own humanity.
At this point I can hear my friend asking, in her most sceptical tone: “Are you suggesting that we worship our way out of such situations?” Yes, I am. But how?
I made the point earlier that humility should be the result of true worship. If we are honest, we will admit that pride and self-seeking lie at the root of many of our divisions and conflicts, including the religious, unfortunately. But humility allows us to search ourselves: how did we get to where we are? How significant is the presence of our Creator in our daily lives? How do we repent and make amends? How have we failed to love and forgive ourselves and others? What does it mean to us that we are our brother’s keeper?
Crisis reveals character. It is left to see who as Barbadians we have become. And what or whom we worship. Therein lies the difference.
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.