Fourth Sunday in Lent: Worship and Response – Evelyn Underhill

Worship, in all its grades and kinds, is the response of the creature to the Eternal: nor need we limit this definition to the human sphere.  There is a sense in which we may think of the whole life of the Universe, seen and unseen, conscious and unconscious, as an act of worship, glorifying it Origin, Sustainer, and End.  Only in some such context, indeed, can we begin to understand the emergence and growth of the spirit of worship in men, or the influence which it exerts upon their concrete activities. 

Thus worship may be overt or direct, unconscious or conscious.  Where conscious, its emotional colour can range from fear through reverence to self-oblivious love.  But whatever its form of expression may be, it is always a subject-object relationship; and its general existence therefore constitutes a damaging criticism of all merely subjective and immanental explanations of Reality.  For worship is an acknowledgement of Transcendence; that is to say, of a Reality independent of the worshipper, which is always more or less deeply coloured by mystery, and which is there first . . .

So, directly we take this strange thing Worship seriously, and give it the status it deserves among the various responses of men to their environment, we find that it obliges us to take up a particular attitude towards that environment.  Even in its crudest form, the law of prayer – indeed the fact of prayer – is already the law of belief; since humanity’s universal instinct to worship cannot be accounted for, if naturalism tells the whole truth about life.  That instinct means the latent recognition of a metaphysical reality, standing over against physical reality, which men are driven to adore, and long to apprehend. 

In other words it is the implicit, even though unrecognized Vision of God – that disclosure of the Supernatural which is overwhelming, self-giving, and attractive all at once – which is the first cause of worship, from the puzzled upward glance of the primitive to the delighted self-oblation of the saint.  Here, the human derived spirit perceives and moves towards its Origin and goal; even though that perception shares the imperfections and uncertainties of the temporal order, and is often embodied in crude and mistaken forms.  Here man responds to the impact of Eternity, and in so doing learns the existence of Eternity; accepting his tiny place in that secret life of Creation, which consists in the praise, adoration, and manifestation of God.  That is to say, he achieves his destiny.

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