on worship, liturgies and finding god in the moments of inception


a foundation of the spiritual life is to not essentialize the spirit as an entity in itself. the spirit is not an entity, and it does not reside, in some mysterious way, within our bodies. nor can the spirit be found somewhere else outside of us. it is common to think that we can orient ourselves towards the spirit by looking inwards, but the spirit is not in me nor in you, the spirit is between you and me. buber likened the spirit to the air we breath, it is always within us and at the same time it is in the world in which it participates. remove one or the other and life comes to an end. spirit is what emerges in the between of an i and thou, it is a creation of the relationship.

god is not to be found in our temples, we find our temples in god. god is not in the liturgies by which we offer our worship to him, our worship-liturgies are in god. that is to say: the finding of the god we believe in, precedes the liturgies we utilize in order to worship him. only after we have chosen our god -be the means by which we came to adopt a given faith what they might- we ask of him to reveal to us the manner by which he wills to be worshiped. and since we believe this is the will of god, we feel engulfed in spiritual enthusiasm.

and it is for that reason that different religions teach different liturgies, and believers find their god in their own versions, but not in that of others.

worship-liturgies do not reveal god, the believer believes that god is revealed in them. once god has revealed his will, the belief that our liturgical worship is a direct response to our god’s own wishes and desires, imbues our practices with that incomparable sense of profound spiritual satisfaction. it is in the belief that this is the will of god that we find satisfaction, not in the liturgy itself. liturgies are neutral, and from history we know that often times they are also time, culture and space dependent.

the biblical injunction “na’ase v’nishma” (let us first do and then we will hear) adds a different dimension to the idea of worshiping in the manner proscribed by the will of god. it adds the dimension of reward for the fulfilling of god’s wishes. but the desire for rewards, be that in this life or in the world to come, is not the same as the love of god as actualized in the pure fulfillment of his wishes. love and rewards are two separate things, often at odds with each other.

it is only in zen-buddhism that the concept of “liturgy first” finds a true expression. it is the na’ase v’nishma of the bible but in a wholly different sense. in contrast to conventional religions, zen does not require an antecedent faith in the buddha. since the buddha himself is not an object of faith, there can be no antecedent faith in the teachings he taught, and therefore he cannot become an object of worship. the buddha must remain a “thou”, never an “it”. in zen the practice itself, the “liturgy”, is the entire content of the faith and therefore the practitioner must begin from what in conventional religions would be the back door. in zen, we first do, then we know. for that reason, zen does not proscribe a “compulsory” and universal worship-liturgy in the conventional sense.

we could stop at the thought that the assumption that the same practice (zazen, koans) will benefit equally all different individual personalities, is a bold assessment as to the essence of human nature. the mind is seen as one, as god is one, and all individual minds partake of the same one essence. this is indeed a bold predication as to the attributes of the mind, but that is a separate discussion.

to add a point of clarification, the idea that god allows us to chose our own forms of worship, and to the extent that it is done with a pure heart of love and devotion it will always be acceptable to god, it is also another form of accepting that revelation precedes worship. without our antecedent theological beliefs in god and his attributes, our worship-liturgies become like empty gestures, the kind we often identify as idolatry when practiced by members of other religions.

what this discussion is about, is the understanding that whatever other values we ascribe to our worship-liturgies, they ought not be considered binding in any religious or theological sense. they may have a psychological or sociological value, and certainly an institutional ecclesiastical value, but not a religious one. it is important that the distinction between god and religion be upheld. no doubt, we find many spiritual treasures in our own personal choices for devotional practices, but they ought to remain just that: personal choices, our own humble requests to god to accept our offerings. the moment we commit to the belief that our forms of liturgy-worship are the one offerings god herself wishes, proscribed or expects from us, god ceases to be the eternal-thou and becomes instead the it-of the moment.

in our relationships with god, we need to return time and again to those moments-of-inception in which we find his presence in us manifested as his presence between us. our dialogue with all beings is the deed by which god becomes present in our lives. it is like showing god we have found him by creating and sustaining our dialogical-between with all beings. but it is at that moment-of-inception that we chose the manner of our offerings, not before that. each person and each community, must find the way to actualize the dialogue with the god in the presence of whom we worship, and with whom we place our faiths. (please note: the god not “in” whom, but “with” whom we place our faiths).

i have seen the god of dialogue and i worship my god “with my feet” in the glorious sense that a. j. heschel taught while marching with martin luther king. or in the way liberation theologians speak of in terms of the sacrament-of the-neighbor. it is in the between of an i and a thou, with all that this entails in terms of personal and social engagement, that the presence of god manifests itself.

postscript note:

martin buber wrote: “actually there is no such thing as seeking god, for there is nothing in which he could not be found.” buber was reflecting on a basic hasidic teaching about the manner of god’s omni-presence. but we can’t stop there. we need to take the next step and accept that the moment we seek is the moment we miss. or in other words, that which we seek is that which we miss. and it is for that reason that we never stop seeking. there is nothing to seek, it is here already. the moment we turn to seek, we have failed to see that “that” is already in us and in-between us. fernando pessoa, the poet, had it right all along: it is all futility. (and so did the writer of that famous psalm). every seeking is not-finding. and this has nothing at all to do with seeking outside or within, or with finding the buddha on the road, or finding him on the image of the buddha on the image of the road on the image we hold of our own minds. every seeking is not-finding, and this is the foundation of the zen teaching of non-attainment, a concept which itself is based on the earlier understanding as to the unattainable, all-present and ineffable tao.

every seeking is not finding, and i suspect that we might find when we stop seeking. is there anything to find? i don’t know, i haven’t sought it yet. i’m holding back, because i want to find. and i suspect, yet again, that the firm understanding that the here and now is all that is, is exactly what enlightenment is, and nothing else.

© Hune Margulies / http://dialogicalecology.blogspot.com

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