Pray Tell is happy to announce the winner in our YouthSpeak competition: Alyssa Elliott, junior at Manhattan Christian College. Pray Tell warmly invites any millennials 25 and younger to submit essays for consideration to be published at Pray Tell under YouthSpeak.
Worship cannot be a hollow reaction, it must be a thoughtful response.
Mere reaction is unconscious. It is a habit that has become driven by hollow and forgotten reasoning.
Response can be unconscious. It is a habit whose reason remains a part of the action’s foundation.
Genuflection, upraised arms, bowed heads, folded hands, clapping to the beat of a song, and even an “Amen” all have the potential to be a reaction or a response. It does not matter your tradition—Roman Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Charismatic, Reformed, etc.—as Christians we all run the risk of our worship becoming mindless reaction.
A habit is not detrimental to formation, but a habit without remembered reason is dangerous. We inevitably will be asked why hands are raised during the bridge of the latest Hillsong release or why there is kneeling during prayers. The questions are not where our problem lies. Our problem lies in our answer, when we all we say is, “because that’s just what we do.”
I have watched friends walk away from Christianity because they hadn’t made it their own as a thoughtful response. They were told to tuck their questions about what we do in worship into the back pocket of their Sunday-best and to forget about them.
We do this, I believe, because we are afraid. Afraid we will not “get it right,” afraid that we will say the wrong thing. But, most importantly, I believe that we are afraid of the fact that we must be vulnerable in our answers.
Worship reveals the fact that we do not know everything, because at its core it is a response to the God who is beyond our understanding, that we cannot fully know. It is this fear of admitting our lack of omniscience that drives us to hide our questions and force blissful ignorance onto our faces. Except, we need to ask, and we need to admit that our questions will infinitely beget more questions. Being afraid of not having all the answers gets us nowhere and pretending that we do takes us backwards.
My use of first person has been intentional, because I have played all the roles. From the prodigal to the know-it-all, from question asker to question killer, I have lived each one. If we are honest with ourselves we will find that we have all played each one, to some extent, because our focus has been on the habit itself, not its meaning.
Our habits shape who we are and they form us into people who faithfully live into our vocation as children of God. The danger is when these habits are performed instinctually because of the environment in which we were raised, not the faith to which we cling.
We can genuflect, raise our arms, bow our heads, fold our hands, clap to the beat of a song, and say “Amen” because of habit. What we cannot do is leave it at that. We bend knees in reverence and servitude, raise arms in surrender, bow heads in deference to God, fold hands in petition, clap because of the joy of being saved by the Mighty and Living God, and say “Amen” because we believe it to be true.
We may not have these base reasons running through our minds each time we perform the action. However, they remain at the institution of the habit. There must be an articulated foundation upon which they can rest, and when we do this we will find something different happening. When doubt threatens to overcome our faith and when the sorrows of the world drag us towards despair we fall back not on empty praxis, and in turn walk away, but into truth rooted in God and remain.
It is time for us to air out our Sunday-best and rediscover our questions. It is time to cease ignoring them and desist evading them. Allow questions to be asked and permit yourself to not always have an answer. Let us all, no matter our age or our tradition, join together in faithful pursuit of all our nagging questions about worship.
We just might find our worship transforming from a hollow reaction into a meaning-filled response to the reality of God.