Worship as an Act of Love
God loved us first, we read in 1 John 4:19. This seems an appropriate reminder of the fact that, prior to our meeting for worship, we are already inextricably woven into a fabric of universal love – Godly love, mutual love.
Being mindful of the oneness that precedes our coming together, whether we gather in a physical setting or online, we have reason to rejoice. We can rejoice in the realization that we exist and live in a Spirit that loves and unites, a Spirit that holds us dear, a Spirit that keeps us intimately close to Itself and to each other, and that our belonging in meeting is assured.
The Spirit that brings us forth is Love. It is in Love that we communicate; it is in Love that we stand and relate; it is in Love that we see each other and love one another.
So, let us remember that, even as we strive to provide the best accommodations and best arrangements for our meetings for worship, it is love that allows for their good use, and it is love also that can render them superfluous or irrelevant.
In the end, our divine, worshipful communion does not depend on the architecture of our meetinghouse, the positioning of our benches or the sound-proofing of our walls. And it does not depend on the quality of an internet connection either. It rather depends on our willingness to incarnate divine love – to think love, to emote love, to act love: to be love — for our Source and for each other, in meeting and beyond meeting.
When Friend John Woolman visited the Native American community of Wyalusing by the Susquehanna River in 1763, he did not know the language of his hosts. He trusted, however, in the fluency of Spirit, which allows for the speaking and the hearing that seep through or rise above every wall.
… feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I … expressed my willingness for them [the interpreters] to omit interpreting; so our meeting ended with a degree of divine love. …Papunehang [the man who had been zealous in laboring for a reformation in that town] … spoke…in substance as follows: “I love to feel where words come from.”
— John Woolman (1774), in The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman,
edited by P. Moulton. Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press (1989)
Our coming together as a community, be it physically or online, will present challenges to our readiness to love ourselves – to love one another. But in those challenges are blessings, and I believe it is of the essence that we learn to recognize, honor and accept the immense gifts present within the demands that worshiping (and being) in community present.
As we experiment with online meeting for worship, we are naturally going to be facing a number of new practical issues, both technical and human, connected to the use of this new venue. They may test our patience and our affections, maybe as much as or more than our physical encounters do.
Online meeting for worship can be a blessed door into our practice of unity, just like ordinary meeting for worship is. So, if anyone is so moved, please join. Let’s us join in love. Let’s come together with the glorious intention of making our worship an occasion for bliss.
I believe we fully actualize the blessings of communal worship when we commit to being present with the honest and loving intention of honoring and caring for each other – with courage, generosity, faith, and grace.
It is in the practice of our unity, in the practice of our love, that we grow in Spirit. Through that practice we bear witness to the authenticity of our devotion, as we become doers of the word and not hearers only, as the writer of James tells us (James 1:22, ESV)
Worship regenerates. Worship enlivens. If it becomes tiresome or frustrating, we might need to look into our inward disposition – how much love do I bring into our meeting? As The Beatles would say in one of their songs, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Paul McCartney,1969. “The End,” on Abbey Road. London, England: Apple Records, Track 16.)
“Love is the first motion,” John Woolman wrote. (Woolman, 1774). Let’s make that first motion of love the motion that moves us. And let’s enter into the joy and the peace that unity thus found provides.
Image: Global Meeting for Worship, hosted by Quaker Universalist Fellowship.