Yesterday I wrote on “What is Worship For?”, but I forgot to answer the question. I said that it is not the time for evangelism, and shouldn’t be designed with non-believers in mind. But what is it for? Worship is for God; we could expand that and say worship is for believers to offer to God. But even once we’re clear that worship is the work of the believing community, there’s a possible confusion. We might think the purpose of worship is to give believers a good worship experience.
A pastor in the UK wrote me asking, “What is worship for?” He said that his denomination was encouraging pastors to make worship more “user-friendly” in order to attract new members, and that this initially seemed to him a reasonable evangelistic strategy. A scripture cited in support of this approach was Acts 15:19, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” But as he read this scripture in context, it looked to him like it was written of people who were already Christian believers, and would not be required to accept Jewish practices. It didn’t address the case of people entirely outside the faith. He wrote to ask, “Who are church services for? Believers or unbelievers?”
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion—through all 50 states, for any reason whatsoever. When I was a college student, back in the 70’s, I was in favor of legalizing abortion. I wasn’t a Christian then, but I was a feminist, the first feminist in my dorm, and I was loudly in favor of social revolution and women’s rights. I took it for granted that abortion was necessary, if women were ever going to be equal to men.
LISTENING INVOLVES THE WHOLE BODY Don’t listen with your ears alone; use your eyes, as well, to gather clues from the person’s expression, stance, and overall demeanor. The body can reveal the soul. In writing about Eastern Orthodox spirituality, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) said that the body is like a Geiger counter;[i] it can disclose what is going on in the soul. He was making the point that it is not necessary for a monk to continually plumb the psyche, because his own body will disclose his inner spiritual and emotional processes. We can use that insight as well. By paying attention to what the other person’s body communicates as we listen to them, we can discern what is going on inside the heart, soul, and understanding.
What’s so mysterious about the Jesus Prayer? It’s one of the shortest and simplest prayers you can find: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It’s one of the most ancient prayers, too; think of how often in the Gospels people ask Jesus for mercy. A prayer for mercy would likely have been one of the variations when the Desert Mothers and Fathers (AD 2nd-5th c), who sought to pray constantly, were trying out different short, repeated verses of Scripture to discipline the wandering mind. (St. Augustine reports that they “have very frequent prayers, but these are very brief.”) Those ancient monasteries and hermitages are the spiritual nursery in which the Jesus Prayer had its birth.
When people with strong religious convictions live alongside people who hold different but equally strong views, the results can be explosive. That’s not only a matter of historical record, but a global tragedy as fresh and raw as today’s headlines. The United States, however, somehow defies both human history and faith-based brutality all too common in the contemporary world. What is America’s secret to maintaining social peace, relatively high levels of religious engagement, and increasing diversity? To answer that question, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, just published by Simon & Schuster, draws on the most comprehensive surveys yet on American religion and public life, taken under the auspices of the Templeton-funded Faith Matters project.
[Frederica Here and Now; June 4, 2010] This week, I just had a pretty short thought. I get an email, an Orthodox Quote of the Day everyday, and it’s always something wonderful. And there was something about this one that really jumped out at me. Today’s quote is from St. John Chrysostom. I’m not sure where in his writings this comes from. And the quote is: A fearful thing is sin. Fearful and the ruin of the soul, and the mischief, oftentimes through its excesses, overflowed and attacked men’s bodies also. For since for the most part, when the soul is diseased, we feel no pain, but if the body receive, though, but a little hurt, we use every exertion to free it from its infirmity because we are sensible of the infirmity. ThereforeGod, oftentimes, often punisheth the body for the transgressions of the soul so that by means of the scourging of the inferior part, the better part also may receive some healing.
1. What does the marriage ceremony grant exactly to a couple that would help form a lasting relationship? The marriage ceremony is a Holy Mystery, a Sacrament, which means that something happens beyond what the human participants bring to the event. God intervenes with his Holy Spirit and creates something holy, something that did not exist before. The marriage ceremony is essential for Christians, so that this immensely significant relationship in our lives may be upheld and blessed by God.
[Kyria; May, 2010] “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess 5:17) Have you ever wondered what St. Paul was talking about? How can a person pray constantly? Yet this wasn’t the only time St. Paul urged his hearers to constant prayer. “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” ( Romans 12:12). “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18). “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” Col 4:2. If he took the trouble to say this to four different communities, he must have thought it was important. And he must have thought it was possible. He wouldn’t have kept urging his hearers to do something that was completely beyond their capability.
[Frederica Here and Now Podcast; October 1, 2009] Frederica Mathewes-Green: I’m sitting at my kitchen table today with my friend Katherine Mowers, a member of my church, Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Baltimore. She wanted to interview me about listening skills, and I’m recording our conversation for my podcast as well. Katherine Mowers: Here’s the first question: How can you do reflective listening in a manner that is more than just listening, but actively supporting the person?