Monday, December 13, 2010

Worship

One of the generalized understandings in all the major religions is a requirement of worship.

This--to me-- is understood to mean offering praise and thanksgiving upwards towards the higher, towards the Lord. We can cite hundreds of thousands-- probably even millions–of examples of artistic achievement and music which were specifically created with this aim in mind. One could argue, in fact, that most of the great works of art and music in man's history have this aim. (Which makes me wonder what the atheists would leave us with, if they had their way.)

The act of worship is central to all the major religions. It doesn't, however, seem to hold a strong place in our esoteric practice. This morning I found myself asking why.

In the Gurdjieff work, the form of worship we most often encounter–unfortunately, I'm going to have to say this, squirm as much as you like–is the worship of group leaders and elders. My own group leader Betty Brown frequently told me before she died that she found this devotion to the hierarchy and to supposedly more “developed” individuals both counterproductive and distressing.

Gurdjieff himself saw the strong temptation, in all of his followers, to lean on him for their work. He famously found ways to send them away in order to put an end to this, which engendered much subsequent gossip, badmouthing, and misunderstanding.

We are not any different today. The "hero culture," in which the older members of the work (and those who have passed on) are better than us, wiser than us, more spiritually adept than us, is alive and well. We doubt ourselves and believe our “superiors,” rather than–as Gurdjieff advised us--doubting our superiors and believing in ourselves.

Once broached, this question of worship and its place in inner and work naturally expands beyond the narrow horizon of hierarchies and temporal authority.

We rarely, if ever, hear about praising the Lord in this work. We ask for things constantly; “Lord have mercy” is a mantra.

We want to receive. We want to create alignment in us that allows us to become an embodiment of a higher power, at least for a moment.

We ask, ask, ask.

I think this is probably correct. There is no doubt that we have to ask a great deal. But we also have to offer. We need to offer praise and thanksgiving as often as possible in the practice of our daily life. Not publicly, in church–I am speaking of that offering which takes place inwardly, both silently–without any words–and also actively, with words, in which one intentionally gives thanks, according to one's inner inclinations, impressions, and understanding.

When I discussed this with my wife this morning, she had confessed that she can't recall any discussion of this subject in the Gurdjieff work, either now, or in the past. And neither can I. I find this peculiar, seeing as this has become such a spontaneous and ingrained practice on my own part. I can't recall anyone else in the Gurdjieff work ever having told me that this is a daily practice for them.

Am I off my rocker? Am I the only person who discovers this active within me? Is this some aberrant attraction towards pedestrian religious practice which I ought to sneer at, being the experienced esotericist that I am?

I know that brother Lawrence (the practice of the presence of God) well understood the spontaneous arousal of prayer within man, the need to offer praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, the rightness of it within the context of daily life and ordinary living. This is an instinct that should arise in human beings naturally, as a consequence of their work. Yet we don't talk about it.

I'm not saying I have the answers for this, and perhaps I'm not even saying that it should be talked about...very much. I truly don't know. I just have these questions about it, and they are active in me right now.

Do we worship? Do we not worship? What is the place of worship? Are we not attentive to this question? Is it unimportant?

This isn't the first time I've spoken thus in this space, although I don't do it very often. That's because the question of offering praise and thanksgiving to the Lord is a highly personal and private activity. There is no way for a man to do this legitimately unless it arises within him of his own volition. If priests and ministers stick it in you, so to speak, it becomes a machine, rather than a living offering. And most certainly, it is the living offering which matters.

When feeling is active, it is possible to be moved in ways that would be artificial and unseemly under any other set of circumstances. It would be very nearly profane, for example, to worship mechanically, just following the formula because we are told to. But when feeling is active, worship is natural, instinctive. It is this understanding I seek to form a relationship with. If and when I do, I understand something quite new about my relationship with the higher.

To be fair, the one way one does hear about this in the Gurdjieff work is when people express gratitude. The feeling (it is indeed a feeling, not an emotional state) of true gratitude is, I think, a big thing. It's the beginning of a direction that might lead towards worship. And the taking in of an impression more deeply, more directly, without any specific words to accompany in it–that, too, is in the right direction, because it is a legitimate offering.

For myself, I often find that actively offering worship in a moment of feeling can help create more of an opening. I'm not sure whether others share that experience or not; perhaps my inner practice is a bit too religious for some to relate to. I don't know.

In any event, it strikes me that although we do have a form (protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) and we do have leaders, seniors, and people with a wonderful understanding, nonetheless, it falls on our own shoulders to discover our own work and our own form of worship.

The relationship with the higher is, after all, intimate, personal, and necessary. It is not, in my experience, a relationship where I get something. That element is present, but it is my ordinary self that constructs all of my transactions in life around that idea. This is a relationship that, when it is active, asks me to offer–not just to offer “something,” but to offer all that I have been, all that I am, and everything I might be, all at one time.

Of course that task is impossible. But, speaking for myself, that is the task that calls me in this life.

May our prayers be heard.


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