With the restrictions placed on places of worship during the COVID-19 crisis the question arises as to what is the heart of worship? What is essential for you to be able to worship? Different faiths and traditions have a variety of practices, some of which stress a sacred place, or a priesthood, or a liturgy or a congregation or a right attitude.
There was a story in the media recently about an elderly woman whose first trip out after lockdown had to be to her local church, which was so special to her. That was where she worshipped. Many people find that being in a temple, synagogue, church or other religious shrine is where they feel close to the divine. The architecture, the sacred relics, the holy scriptures all help them to experiencing the presence of God in worship.
In some faith traditions there is a special group of people who have a key role in worship: priests, ministers, imams, and rabbis for example. They may be responsible for conducting services and teaching the faith. In the Sikh tradition it is the scriptures that are the key to worship. Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book, became the replacement for the line of Gurus which began with Guru Nanak. In some Christian traditions the priest must use approved liturgies, the agreed form of words of the service. In many religions there are customs and rituals that have grown up, and are found to be helpful to the worshipper, such as lighting candles or incense sticks, making the sign of the cross, or adopting particular positions for prayer. For some, communal prayer is more important than private prayer.
Some, if not all, faith traditions stress the need for a right attitude within the worshipper. It is a faithful heart not the outward show that is vital. And for many religions, it is how faith is lived that is more important than the creed that is spoken. In the words associated with the prophet Micah it is not religious observance that is necessary, but rather God requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Amos, another prophet, makes the point more strongly, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”(Amos 5:21,22,24).
So although sacred places may be beautiful and peaceful, though priests may be revered and liturgies uplifting, though scriptures may be inspired and the presence of other praying worshippers supportive, perhaps the key to worship lies in a heart that loves and seeks to love others, working for justice and peace, and a world where all are treated equally and life flourishes. Worship that is lived out everyday in kindness and goodness may be the truest worship of all.