Art as worship

I have known the title of this post for a long time but I didn’t know if there would be any words to go with it.

Today, I felt the words come to me.

For some time, I have been both fascinated and puzzled by the word, “worship”. I know that I am to worship God and God alone – but what does that mean? How do I know if I am doing it?

I can consult the online dictionary as I am wont to do, but it only gives me similarly puzzling terms in response. To show “reverence” and “adoration” for a deity (quotation marks mine). But what is adoration? And reverence? I can find definitions for these words as well but they are of no help.

I need something more.

Memories from my childhood religious education conjure up images of people bowing down before God in heaven – endlessly. Scriptural accounts of the people of God “bowing down” before idols – or refusing to do so – likely fostered this notion. It does not make worship seem very attractive.

It also has little to do with true worship.

Having grown spiritually, at least a little, since then, I am aware that worship has much more to do with love – responding to God’s love with love. But how do I love what my senses cannot register? I cannot see or touch or hear God. Sometimes it feels like I am just trying to love a word or the air around me.

Perhaps what makes it so hard to define worship in its truest sense is that when worship emerges from an unseen place deep within my being, I know what it is. But I also know that I cannot make it happen.

I am to worship God but true worship is beyond my control. 

I can go through the motions of religious ritual (the “bowing down”) but that in and of itself is not true worship. At best, it is a longing for worship and seeking the gift that creates the deep movement within that I can only recognize through experience.

As I have ventured into art and iconography in particular, I have discovered worship anew. Certainly I do not worship icons – my own or others’. No, it is in the process of drawing or painting the holy that I am moved beyond the artistic ritual and into the presence of God.

Of course, God has always been here, ever within me, ever surrounding me, but something is uncovered – revealed. It is as though for a moment the scales fall from my eyes, as they did for Saul of Tarsus, enabling me to see a loving Truth so clearly that I cannot help but worship. I find myself in love.

God is no longer seems a mere word or idea. God is, God reveals. And the only response to God’s Presence is worship.

But, of course, I cannot make this happen through art anymore than I can make it happen through religious ritual.

I can gild much gold and paint many images and get lost in all the distractions of technique and human notions of beauty. But, having once tasted true worship, I hunger for more and cannot stop, even when it seems I am lost in a merely human pursuit that has little to do with God.

At other times, while compelled to continue, I feel afraid. Who am I to paint the Son of God? Or His holy Mother or the saints? I only dare create such images because the Lord took on flesh in history, thus giving us permission to see and experience Him as human.

Today, I was given the gift of worship. I do not know why – I have done nothing whatsoever to deserve it. It is grace – pure and holy and loving.

I rejoice. I worship.

To Him be all praise and glory forever.

Amen. Amen.

(This image, drawn with pastels, is based on detail from an ancient icon of the Crucifixion housed at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert.)

2 thoughts on “Art as worship

  1. mtmcn

    Mary,
    It’s helpful to read your words about the meaning of worship. It is more than ritual, and it is more than prayer in action. As you say, worship is an experience of oneness given to us by God. It’s good to be reminded of this.
    Gratefully,
    Mary T

  2. mary Post author

    MT – so nice to hear from you! Thank you for reading and commenting – in one line you said what took me paragraphs: “worship is an experience of oneness given to us by God”.

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