From an outsiders perspective, Mormon worship services may be perceived as lacking actual worship. We spend two and a half of our three hours in classes or listening to sermons. We have (maybe) half an hour of singing (most of it – in my ward at least – resembles a death march) and ordinances. Even our public prayers center around the teacher and the student receiving the Spirit. Where is our Worship? In a BYU devotional entitled ‘Lord, Increase our Faith’ Bruce R. McConkie taught that he believed that the highest form of worship is when someone spoke by the spirit and another person received by the spirit so that both were edified. This idea is clearly rooted in D&C section 50, but is this really a form of worship? If it is a uniquely LDS form of worship then what does that tell us about the ideals we value most in the Mormon Church?
In a series of previous posts, David Stout has suggested that there is an underlying rationalism that drives our worship services. I suspect that this true to an extent but he misses, or perhaps neglects to mention another key factor. Terryl Givens explores a paradox in Mormon thought between certainty and searching . He explains that the discourse of our religious history is rooted in certainty and that conversion occurs when we know the truth, rather than in a conversion to Christ through forgiveness. Therefore, perhaps, it is not strange to conclude that the highest form of worship is when such certainty is conveyed or shared between searching individuals.
Yet, this is not the only type of worship discussed in the LDS tradition. In fact there are two other strains that I think are prominent: emulation and adoration. Emulation as a form of worship continues the pragmatic theme which seems fixed in education as a form of worship (another of the paradoxes Givens discusses: The Sacred and the Banal). Adoration is part of the Church but it seems diminished compared to other religious cultures like the Church of England, for example. I can understand this, however, because Emulation and Adoration suggest different conceptions of sacred distance. Emulation seeks to narrow that distance whereas Adoration wants to emphasise the differences between God and Human beings.
It occurs to me that the view of God that is generally held among Mormons (the Anthropomorphic God who becomes divine through a progressive process) results in a sense of dissatisfaction with the traditional forms of Adoration-type Worship held in other Churches, but neither Education nor Emulation have adequately replaced them, in my view. So where is worship in LDS services?
One suggestion I have is that we should include both types of worship in our services. I sense that including forms of worship which both accentuates and also diminishes the sacred distance between ourselves and God would be a spiritually productive paradox. Accentuating this distance would emphasise our dependence upon God while seeking to receive his divine nature would ensure we do not stop striving to open ourselves to God’s love and the possibility of loving others and being loved by them. Moreover, I am one of those people who sees that these (unresolvable) tensions prove fertile ground for our communion with God.
How do you feel about Mormon Worship services?
What do you consider Worship and is it present in your wards and stakes?
What types of Worship could be included in our meetings?