This column first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.
In recent years, I often recall the first time I saw my dad pray. It was unsettling. I came upon him in church, where he was kneeling, his hands shading his eyes. He had a type of intensity that, at three or four years old, I had never seen before. Nor had I had ever seen him kneel before his God-or anyone else, for that matter.
My mind drifts back, because what I witness today in times of worship is such a contrast. My father was spiritual, as we might say today, but he was not very religious. It is not the memory of his posture that remains vividly with me; it was the demonstration of an aspect of his heart-a spiritual point of view-that captured my budding spiritual imagination. Today, we may kneel, but so many of us, I fear, have strayed far from the reverence of heart that our elders knew, not so long ago.
Our worship has been deeply influenced by a culture that is immersed in the consumption of media. We bring that point of view to our worship. What will it give me? What will I learn? Is it helpful? The focus has shifted from deity to the consumer.
Differently, the foundation of our elders’ moral life was humility and respect toward God-so splendidly animated by their spiritual experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Courage and compassion, the embryo of righteous change, as Martin Luther King, Jr. never tired of saying, is born in the grateful reverence we have for a God who loves us so dangerously. It is the way to a satisfied mind; it is the spark of a heart that burns with love for the poor.
A God who loves us so deserves all that we have to offer. Such a God provides comfort, even entertainment, but that is not why we worship and that is certainly only the faintest beginning of what God wants of us.
Look around at the state of our world and its numbing mixture of potent pleasure, on the one hand, and unmet crying need, on the other. To be faithful demands a level of courage, vision and love that even our elders would find challenging. I cannot imagine that anything less than the reverent heart is up to the task. Though this is an intimidating thought, I am not worried that such a heart is possible. It is my faith and joyful experience that God is, in Jesus, seeking me for just that. I suspect that was part of what I was witnessing when I saw my dad pray.
BISHOP MARK MACDONALD is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.