For some time now I’ve asked myself (and sometimes others) if there is another fitting term that Unitarian Universalists might use instead of “worship.” We speak of and attend weekly worship services, which are coordinated and shaped by the UU of SCV Worship Team, which keeps a worship schedule to help with planning. But in my experience, most UUs don’t come together on Sunday mornings to worship. We may revere our Seven Principles; we may be moved to awe by part(s) of a Sunday service; we may hold the ideals and aspirations expressed from the pulpit in the highest regard. But generally UUs don’t worship anything—including God.
To my mind this stance has some positive aspects. One big one is that UUs don’t typically anticipate that the King of Heaven (notably, not the Queen of Heaven) will drop from the sky because we’ve finally appeased his seemingly insatiable need for veneration, and reward us by smiting our enemies and/or whisking us off to live by his side amid the righteous few while everyone else burns. You might recall that the Universalist side of our faith tradition advanced the theological conviction that every soul is ultimately “saved” in the eyes and heart of an all-loving deity; that God is love, not judgment. Yet a century ago and prior, our Universalist forebears would have been far more likely to truly worship that deity.
But there may also be a downside in our reluctance to worship—though for me it depends on how we define the term. In Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12-Step programs, once an addicted person admits they have a problem (Step One), they go to Step Two: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” With this step—which birthed the term “Higher Power” as a less “bearded white grandfather figure in the sky” synonym for “God”—people move beyond their own ego boundaries into the realm of Ultimate Mystery. They take a leap of faith.
Then Step Three reads, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” (Some say “… as we understood God.”) With this, people translate that leap of faith into personal action by consciously stepping into a willing partnership with that Higher Power. This is akin to what one spiritual tradition calls getting into the flow of the Tao: the universal consciousness that infuses all things. And Taoism says this consciousness can infuse and inform our lives, if we will but set aside some of our all-knowing ego-logic. This doesn’t mean we toss out logic in favor of magical thinking. It means we’re open to the appearance of potential wisdom and healing and grace that transcends our limited, linear left brains.
Such openness may not be “worship” as we normally think of it. But to borrow a 12-Step phrase, the decision to “let go and let God” is a bold move into a spiritual life; a life that seeks to align itself and co-create with “a power greater than ourselves.” And that is worshipful in itself.
So if you’d care to propose another term for worship, I’m all ears! Meanwhile the “Team Currently Known as Worship that may Eventually be Called Something Else” has been considering relatively small changes to our Sunday morning experience. Some have already altered our recent services a bit, and the rest will first appear at our October 1st service. We hope these adjustments will help to infuse and deepen our spiritual lives together.
Rev. Peter Farriday
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