What is worship? Presumably it is more than fellowship. Whereas fellowship is relational among us, worship involves something else–something that is thought to break through, being “wholly other” in its nature. That is to say, worship involves transcending our empirical world. Worship is a reaching, or grasping, for that which is transcendent. As such, the emphasis is on the transcending–not on the nature of the transcendent. Why? I would argue that the nature of the object believed to transcend the limits of human perception and cognition is by definition unknowable. Some theologicans claim that making this assertion means that God cannot be completely beyond our grasp because the claim involves or implies knowledge concerning what God is. I respectfully disagree with this opinion. I wouldn’t have to know anything in particular about a topic to know that it is a topic lying beyond my ken. It is enough for me to know that X is in the field of engineering, for example, for me to be able to claim that X is ineffable to me because I haven’t studied that discipline. Similarly, in claiming that God is that whose nature transcends the limits of my cognition and perception, I am stating that God’s nature is ineffable to me.
So worship, it turns out, is about a sort of reaching unlike any directed to an object of which we can know. Accordingly, the focus of worship is in the reaching rather than to the nature of the object being worshipped. To be sure, one’s notions regarding the nature of the object can impact one’s reaching. I’m simply arguing that such notions are dogmatic, or aritrary. What is decisive in the end is the nature of the reaching itself. Such a nature is one of practice; reaching is, after all, a verb–an action. What makes worship unique is the nature of its reaching, which is informed by the assumption that the object lies beyond the limits of our cognition and perception (i.e., beyond our realm, or world).
If I’m right, two major implications follow. As I discuss above, there is the impossibility of knowing the nature of that which transcends the limits of human cognition and perception. There is also the implication that the worshipper himself or herself cannot be that to which the reaching is directed because persons are within the realm we know and inhabit (i.e., our nature is not sourced beyond our realm). I suppose a third implication follows, which I suspect not many people will appreciate. If I am correct, too much ink has been spilled on the nature of the objects being worshipped. Much work has gone into erecting sand-castles that may for all we know be dogmatic. We simply cannot know whether any of our religions have accurately depicted the nature of the real, the source of being, which we call the divine. The most we can say is that the nature of the divine transcends our domain because we have defined God as such. Our definition does not mean that we can know the nature of things in themselves. To say we can’t know something–to define X as unknowable–is not to say that we know anything about it. Rather, it is to say that whatever we ascribe to it can only be known to be from ourselves. We are utterly blind to our own dogmatism on religious matters. I suspect that the more we flesh out the object being worshipped, the less our activity of worshipping is transcendent (and the more it is of the world we know–ultimately of ourselves).
Suggestion: try worshipping where the focus is on the reaching or grasping rather than on the nature of the object being worshipped. This is not to say that you would assume there is no object; rather, your attention would be on the striving rather than on what you ascribe to the object. You might want to notice the reaching going on around you…and focus on your own striving itself–reaching out to that which is inherently beyond…at the source. No more need be ascribed to it. The reaching, I believe, is worshipping that which has been so heavily clothed in various garb in its bare, or naked, essence (which we can’t know).