I am responding, though not directly, to a blog about worship in the context of the revision of Quaker faith & practice. See https://transitionquaker.blogspot.com
Worship, I think, is opening oneself to the wonder and challenge of the world around and within, everything from the vastness of the cosmos, to the presence of others, to the depths of one’s innermost thoughts, feelings and instincts. Worshipping together is a shared opening to whatever may prompt our awareness; a waiting for inspiration and a responding to whatever comes. Needless to say such worship can happen anywhere and at any time. Some may prefer not to use the word ‘worship’ and prefer ‘meditation’ or ‘contemplation’. Others may be committed to rituals in their faith tradition with particular acts or liturgies, creeds and readings from holy scriptures.
For myself, I have increasingly found set liturgies unhelpful. The language used is not only limiting but destructive. Often it is patriarchal, sexist, and dogmatic. The rituals may be helpful at times. Lighting a candle, for example, can be a significant act of remembrance or commitment, or an expression of longing or hope. But such acts I think should be as and when appropriate to the worshipper and not laid down in patterns or seasons.
In Quaker tradition and British Quaker practice worship may be variously described as being open to ‘the light’ or ‘The Light’, waiting for the ‘Spirit’ or ’spirit’ to move amongst the gathered community. A wide variety of words, explanations and theories are used to describe Quaker worship, which is mainly silent expectant waiting, but erupts into spoken ministry on occasion. Some are helped by using language which refers to God, the divine, a spiritual dimension or reality, others find such language less helpful. Some Meetings are much more accepting of the language of Christianity, and references to the divine. Others are more reluctant to use such words and may even exert pressure on participants not to use them. All value the experience of each person and are committed to both giving and receiving within worship. There are hidden patterns to Quaker worship, Ben Pink Dandelion goes so far as to describe them as ‘liturgies’ and draws parallels to more obviously ritualistic worship such as the Mass. Quaker experience of worship varies enormously. Sometimes it happens in very small groups, at other times there may be a gathering of thousands.
A common element in a lot of worship is singing, which does not happen often amongst Quakers. It is a healthy activities which can help to create a sense of community. It can, however, be exclusive and divisive. Sometimes it seems to me the singing of the liturgy becomes a cultural expression, a work of art. This may be instead of, or as well as, an act of worship.
Often is is said that worship is a transformative experience and perhaps at its best it will be. Each person may find an insight into truth, a new self awareness, or realise there is a challenge or opportunity facing them. The worshipping community may similarly be changed by the experience.
Perhaps worship does not only happen in religious communities. It may be that it occurs in what appears to be an ordinary everyday activity. It could be in art, or yoga, or work or entertainment that a sense of wonder and challenge emerges. A transformative experience can happen at any time and in any place. So, perhaps, worship cannot be defined too exactly.