Over the years I recognise that I use the word ‘devotion’ more than I use the word ‘worship’ in speaking of our response to the love of God and the call to serve him, though, of course, both are of our common religious language. I have never really analysed why, but I think it is because the word ‘devotion’ reflects for me the intensity of our union with God, perhaps even intimacy. So to describe our worship in Church as our ‘devotions’ holds this level of closeness. One can be led to worship, but to be devoted to something, or someone, is from the heart.
So, will you indulge me and look at these two words more closely today? The following is gleaned from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:
Worship - The feeling or expression of adoration for a deity; great admiration or devotion.
Devotion - Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person or and activity; religious worship or observance, with ‘devotions’ given as, “prayers or religious observances”
Reading these definitions leads me to understand better why it is that I feel that our online services, however well done, are never going to replace the real thing. I do not buy into the notion that Church has changed for ever. I have seen devotion to God in different countries and different traditions. It transcends language and culture and its sight affects us in a way that is not easy to describe.
Let me try another tack. Within this idea of devotion there are particular elements that are always present. There is, for example, a delight in being in the presence of God, and this state of mind and heart is reflected in the ability to wait patiently upon God, by this we are drawn close. We see this reflected in many psalms. Take for example the beginning of Psalm 62, “On God alone my soul in stillness waits”, or the opening verses of the following psalm, “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul is athirst for you.”
The devotion of quietness - where more of the devotion of God is encountered - is where we may ponder in stillness, and even in the ‘lockdown’ this may be enhanced. This is the place where in patient waiting we expose our souls ever more to the transforming nature of Christ’s life within us. Such devotion takes time, and is not all beautiful roses and sunsets. The writer of Psalm 88 brings even the darkness into his feelings of aloneness and abandonment, with that poignant question in verse 14, “Shall your wonders be known in the dark or your righteous deeds in the land where all is forgotten?” Acknowledging that, indicates that solitude has its deep challenges. It does also draw us to realise that God is even in the most frightening of places, and at the point of our distress, as well as in moments of joy, as we, with different emotions, join the author of Psalm 84, and sing: “My soul has a desire and longing to enter the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.”
For some time at Morning Prayer we have been reading of the Exodus, and the struggles that ensued as a result; not all of which makes for edifying reading. What it does do though is demonstrate that God walks with a pilgrim people, and, this is a great encouragement to all of us who feel that our devotional life is longing for the moment when, without electronic device and computer screen, we may open our church doors, meet, sing, pray together and share in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Until then, let us in Christ, maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and be thankful that we can be connected by the wonders of modern technology and the, God given, ingenuity of humanity.