Who shall not fear you, Lord,
and do homage to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
for your righteous deeds have been revealed.
Rev. 15: 4
Today we read from the Book of Revelation of the nature of heaven. It is the “place” where “all nations will come and worship” God and know that all of God’s deeds have always been righteous. The consciousness of heaven must therefore include an enduring awareness of how we have obscured and resisted God’s deeds in our world, while experiencing a perduring Divine mercy and forgiveness that somehow mysteriously overcomes that sinfulness. It is a place where, after the struggles and conflicts with God’s sovereignty in our brief lives, we finally realize our greatest human potency: the worship of God.
In an age in which the functional dimension of human personality has become ultimate for us, it sounds very strange, if not retrograde, to say that the purpose of our life is not work but worship. The image from Revelation that has tended to dominate our religious imagination is that of heaven’s inhabitants “holding harps of God.” It is telling that our interpretation of the image leaves many of us with the feeling that heaven just might be quite a “boring” place. Perhaps it is indicative of the disposition toward what we have called “original sin” that playing the music of God’s harp, rather than our own personal tune, seems boring to us.
What is the meaning of the worship of God for us? A prayer of the spiritual teacher Rabbi Nachman offers some insight:
as I age –
as hours turn to days,
days to weeks,
weeks to months,
and months to years –
let none of my time be wasted or lost.
Let me use my life
to the fullest,
to become the person
I am meant to be.
Retirement and aging can be very difficult for people of our culture. Even those of us not retired know the experience of longing for time off but then experiencing boredom and loneliness when we have an open day with “nothing to do”. The “difficulty” of worship becomes an experience for me when I see how much time I lose or waste when I have “open time” outside of my routine or scheduled expectations. Rabbi Nachman implies that we worship God by living each and every moment of our lives “to the fullest,” by becoming “the person I am meant to be.”
For the Desert Fathers and Mothers one of the capital sins was what they termed acedia. This came to be seen as sloth or laziness, but it literally means “not-caring.” When I find myself “surfing” either countess television channels with my remote control or the web on my iPad, when I obsess about the groceries I want to purchase or an upcoming trip or duty, I am wasting and losing time because I am not-caring enough. I am not-caring about the gift of life and time God has given me; I am not-caring enough about glorifying and worshiping God; I am not-caring enough about others, the world, and even about my own life.
When I am busy or engaged in a work of my own that brings with it some level of reward, or appreciation, or sense of personal potency (including moral or ethical potency), I am gratified enough to be motivated not to be lazy. Not that it is always easy to get ourselves up and out to work in the morning, or to push ourselves to meet an impending deadline. Yet, strangely enough, it seems easier for us to do those things than to awaken and remain awake to our capacity for the praise and worship of God. Of course, we all waste plenty of time where we are being called to do our work, to attend to the tasks of daily life, but, at least in my experience, we are more apt to waste or lose the time that is given to us for prayer and worship. When we do this, we not only lose and waste time, we also lose and waste out deepest human potency; we become more and more estranged from “the person I am meant to be.”
Before everything we do and are can become an act of prayer and worship, we must awaken in moments of stillness and focal attention to our distinctively human capacity for worship. The song of those in heaven is the song that the person we are meant to be is always singing. We are made for the praise and worship of God, not only after we die but in each moment. Theodore James Ryken spoke of his aspiration that his brothers would combine the lives of Martha and Mary, of action and contemplation. The way to such harmony is not by the egoic and functional yoking of opposites in our lives. Rather, it is by realizing that every thought we have, every word we utter, every action we engage in is, when true to its purpose, an act of worship. That means, however, that our actions must not be mere wastes of time. The act of prayer and worship always precedes, and not merely temporally, our speech and our action. In the Liturgy of the Hours we pray: “Let our work always find its origin in you and through you reach completion.” If our work is to “find its origin” in God, we must overcome the laziness, the not-caring, that confines our vision of life to our own limited perspective. We must awaken to the world and to all that is in it as a summons to worship, so that we can recognize and realize, in the words of George Herbert, “Heaven in ordinary.”
We speak of Heaven who have not yet accomplished
even this, the holiness of things
precisely as they are, and never will!
Before death was I saw the shining wind.
To disappear, today’s as good a time as any.
To surrender at last
to the vast current—
And look, even now there’s still time.
Time for the glacial, cloud-paced
soundless music to unfold once more.
Time, inexhaustible wound, for
your unwitnessed and destitute coronation.
Franz Wright, God’s Silence, p. 75