Worship as a Conversation

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

If we can start by agreeing that worship is a conversation, then what unfolds is not a list of appropriate actions and practices but a recognition that a divine—and therefore inherently diverse—dialogue exists and that we are not only invited to speak but also to listen.


Can you remember the last really good conversation that you had?


Can you remember the last really good conversation that you had? How would you describe that conversation? Would you remember it as a series of alternating declarations and monologues—that you and your conversant took turns giving wonderful speeches to one another?


I hope not.


If we are honest, however, that is exactly how many of us experience and understand worship. It is as if we believe that there are certain things that are expected of us in worship—that we are to appear in a certain place, on a certain day, at a certain time, face a certain way, make certain declarations, pray certain prayers, listen to certain preachers, and sing certain songs.


That is a whole lot of certainty.


Certainty, however, is not a word that we use to describe the best conversations in our lives. Good conversation is anything but certain. It necessarily involves listening and discovery because we are interested in what the other person or persons have to share. Conversation also inherently involves flexibility. We don’t know exactly where things will end up when we begin a conversation. In fact, some conversations go in directions and end up in places we never imagined.


Pursue and receive—back and forth—give and take: Conversation.


The Jewish faith understands worship, study, and prayer to be synonymous—meaning they are interchangeable. It is not that one action is more right at a certain time or in a certain place. All three activities are the same as they open us up to relationship, knowledge, and transformation. All three attempt to pursue and receive the divine.


Pursue and receive—back and forth—give and take: Conversation.


What if I told you that in order to show your mother how much you loved her, you needed to visit her at least once a week—and that when you visited her, there was a formula you needed to follow for your interaction with your mother. Let’s imagine that, since I am an expert on mothers, I gave you an entire script on how you should speak and sing in order to bless your mother—and that you should be able to get the whole thing done in an hour.


Let’s push this metaphor all the way out to the fringe. Imagine that your siblings are convinced that you, the eldest child, really know what mom likes—that your script—is the best script. They believe that you have done all the right mom-research and read all the right mom-books. They think you have a connection to mom that they could never have but they still want to join you every week when you visit mom’s house. They even agree to do little bits of the script at your direction. They love mom too and they want her to know that.

In spite of the fact that your mother loves you, thinks everything you do is brilliant, and would love to spend time with you, how many weeks do you think would go by before your mom started to tune you and your script out? How much repetition would it take for your mother to recognize that your weekly interaction did not actually depend on her doing anything? How many weeks before you were completely blind and deaf to any actual conversation and engagement with your mom?


What if your mom texted you one week to let you know she wouldn’t be there but you should feel free to go on by the house and deliver your script as usual. Of course, she still loves you. Of course, you can call on her if you need her. She just won’t be there to participate this week—which shouldn’t be a problem since you have proven repeatedly that her involvement or participation is not required.


Ouch. I know.


Have we made G-d’s participation in our worship irrelevant?


I get that this is a harsh picture and I hope something is welling up inside of you defiantly declaring that G-d will be there no matter how mind numbing or self-centered our efforts may be. I agree. G-d is there…no matter what. But before we ease our tension with Jesus quotes of “wherever two or more are gathered in my name…” let’s sit in the discomfort for a moment.


Have we made G-d’s participation in our worship irrelevant? Do we even expect G-d to show up or speak?Are we doing all the talking—and if so, are we even saying things that we need to say? Who starts the conversation? What traditions and practices passed down to us can guide our conversation? What would worship that expects G-d to participate look like? Do we interact with other people in worship? Are we even participating in worship at all—or are we just the audience? What would worship that expects us to participate look like?Do we find our experience of worship to be compelling or transformative? Are we changed by worship?


These are the types of questions I am compelled to explore and protest as someone invested in this relationship. These are the types of conversations I want to have. If that interests you, let’s talk…and listen.

© 2019 Darrell Smith || Author, FAITH LIES