by James D. Witmer
|© C. H. Morse Foundation|
Assume with me that, at its essence, to worship means to give someone the honor and love rightly due them because of who they are. This would be why marriage vows from the Book of Common Prayer once included the phrase:
“WITH this ring I thee wed: with my body I thee worship: and with all my worldly goodes, I thee endow.”
Worship in this sense isn’t the most natural posture for a human being. We are self-focused (if not self-centered) creatures, prone to taking others for granted. And even at its most benign, self-focus is a hindrance to our relationships: Mentally occupied by my latest project, I fail to honor and love my wife by engaging her in conversation over dinner.
Refreshing our perspectives on each other is an important part of relationship. That’s why we do “date nights”, and why we go to church. But even in these contexts there is danger that familiarity will breed numbness of the heart. The danger is greatest in our relationship to God; we may fail to see His greatness precisely because we are surrounded by it, just as a fish may take for granted the ocean it swims in. It is we on the shore who stand in awe of the sea.
A few months ago my wife and I visited the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, FL. It houses, to quote the official website:
The world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933)… [including] jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass windows and lamps, and the chapel interior the artist designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
I almost instantly became a life-long fan of Tiffany’s work. Inspired by nature, he worked beauty into a staggering array of mediums, including stained glass windows I would fain have sat and contemplated like the view from a garden bench.
We reached the chapel nearly last, and it was rather a let-down.
First, it was a fake chapel, made for an art show. Ewww?
Second, it was in the Byzantine style – not my favorite – and I felt like there was less of Tiffany’s creative influence visible in the colors and textures.
But after a few moments of taking it all in, I noticed that one of the decorative moldings was actually inscribed Latin text.
I don’t read Latin. But I have picked up a few words incidentally and I (nerd alert!) get a kick out of trying to decipher it. So I started reading aloud, “Holy, holy…”
…And the acoustics of the fake chapel took my voice and turned it back so that it sounded like the words I spoke were coming from everywhere; from the air itself, from an unseen host of witnesses:
The sound roared through my head as if it were deafeningly loud, as if I’d never really heard those words before. The stillness afterward seemed suddenly like a holy hush. And for a breath, I stood in awe on the edge of an Ocean.
And I worshiped.