Star Foster at Patheos has a new series on the Delphic Maxims where she examines these jewels of ancient pagan wisdom to see what meaning they have for her life as a modern Hellenic polytheist. Today’s maxim is “worship the gods” and Star asks what that means for us.
As I frequently mention, I grew up in a small rural Baptist church. They called their meetings “worship” and so I assumed worship meant “preachin’ prayin’ and singin’.” My Methodist grandmother had other ideas – to her “worship” meant the reverent contemplation of God. I liked her idea better… although I later came to appreciate the power in those loud, spirit-filled Baptist services (I never did develop an appreciation for the theology and doctrines behind those sometimes-powerful services, but that’s another rant for another time).
As a Unitarian Universalist I was taught that the word “worship” comes from the Old English word weorthscipe meaning worthiness or respect. Thus worship is acknowledging what we find of greatest worth. Even with that non-theistic definition, I’ve encountered plenty of UUs who don’t like the term – they think of worship as bowing down to some one or some thing and that bothers them.
I say that’s one of the main reasons for worship: to acknowledge that there IS something bigger and more important than yourself.
Maybe that’s God, or Goddess, or gods and goddesses. Maybe that’s values or ideals or principles. Choose wisely: many worship money or power or sex, or worse, entertainment and celebrities.
As a Pagan whose polytheism gets harder all the time, I worship individual gods and goddesses. Cernunnos and Danu are my primary deities – they’re the ones who called me. I speak to them and I listen to them every day – and my speech leans heavily toward thanksgiving. I burn incense, pour wine and offer praise when I am moved to do so. I don’t abase myself – I’ve never gotten the impression they want that. They’re deities: they’re older, stronger, wiser and more powerful than I am and they know it. They don’t need to be constantly reminded of it.
They do expect to be treated with dignity and respect and a bit of humility – as honored guests, as revered elders, as wise teachers.
Star asks “is having a heart full of love and respect worship? Or is it just thinking pretty thoughts?” I think having a heart full of love and respect is a good and necessary start. But simply being filled with love and respect is passive. Worship is active. Worship is taking that love and respect and expressing it in ways that leave no doubt as to the intent.
Is it enough to simply love a partner or a parent or a child or a friend? Or does that love need to be expressed in words and deeds? The first is good – the second is better.
Good worship is a two-way street. I give, but I also receive. My worship reminds me that I serve something – and someone – bigger than myself. My worship reminds me I don’t have to know the whole plan in order to do my part, I don’t have to know the destination to keep walking down the path. It reminds me I don’t have to finish this work, because it’s bigger than any one human lifetime. It reminds me I’m not alone.
Worship the gods. Worship God. Worship ideas and values.