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In Praise and Worship

By Rev. Carol Bodeau

Dear friends,

Recently, a visitor to one of Westside’s Sunday morning services asked the question, from a place of being fairly perplexed, “But what are you worshipping?” This is actually a question I ask myself quite often about UU Sunday mornings. We call them “worship” services (though, as an aside, I can tell you that once in a General Assembly meeting I got scolded pretty severely by an elder UU for using that term)…we call them “worship” services, but it’s pretty unclear what exactly we are worshipping.

In other traditions, this question has clear and explicit answers: God, Jesus, the Goddess, Christ Consciousness, Unity, and many other names for the sacred and the divine. But what do UUs worship? What do we lean towards, and lean into when human actions, thoughts, and solutions fail? It could be argued that UUs worship a number of things, including nature, logic, reason, science, the human spirit, or life itself. Not to mention that many UUs do in fact worship God, Jesus, Christ Consciousness, the Goddess, and many other deities or divine figures. The truth is probably that individual UUs worship a wide range of things, and that on any given Sunday morning, different people are thinking about all of these things. But there is a challenge we face that other denominations don’t have to deal with, and that is that we don’t have shared worship. In other words, we may all be ‘worshipping together’ on Sunday mornings, but we’re probably not worshipping the same things. It reminds me of what the moms in the playground used to call “parallel play” when our toddlers hung out together, but each did their own thing.

As a UU minister, I often say that my primary theological task is translation. My job is to find some sort of language and shared experience that conveys a feeling of ‘worshipfulness’ without landing in any one definition of what we’re worshipping. This offers both gifts and challenges; it provides us with the opportunity to share across difference, and yet it does decrease the intensity of our feeling of ‘oneness’ in many ways.

As I was driving to work yesterday, I experienced an intense feeling of ‘worshipfulness’ and ‘praise’ as I watched the morning sun pour through the yellow and orange leaves on the back roads; I gloried in the mist rising off the lake, as a fish jumped for an insect; I was inspired to tears by the sounds of rich music coming through my radio; and I felt awe at the sight of 4 does watching me pass from the woods beside the road. Those 20 minutes were filled with what I can only describe as transcendent feelings of mystery and wonder (our 6th source in UUism) and I couldn’t help but ask myself: how can we create such experiences together? I would love to hear your answers to that.

In praise of the mystery that is this life,

Rev. Carol

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