Faithful Living: Find your way to worship

How warm this woodland wild Recess, love surely hath been breathing here; And this sweet bed of heath, my dear swells up, then sinks with faint caress,

— S.T. Coleridge

During the latter part of the 1700s and into the first third of the 1800s, there lived a British poet named Samuel Taylor Coleridge. While there is probably someone in academia debating his poetic style and lasting contribution to British literature, there is a story about this Brit that interests me beyond his memories of tender, springtime love.

It seems he got caught up one day in a discussion about religion and children with a houseguest who believed kids should not be given formal religious education of any kind. They should, he argued, be set free to select their own religion when they are old enough to decide. Coleridge, as the story is told, decided to invite his guest into his garden, rather than debate the point.

“Is this really your garden?” his visitor inquired, “There is nothing here but weeds!”

“Well, you see,” Coleridge responded, “I do not wish to infringe on the liberty of the garden in any way. I’m giving the garden a chance to express itself and choose its own production.”

Coleridge’s neglected garden can certainly give rise to a spirited discussion about the role parents play in the lives of their children’s religious education or the challenges of inter-faith marriages. His comments can also point to another dynamic of faith-filled life: a deeper relationship with God is not possible without toil. Persistence. Care. Consistent tending.

During the last few weeks we’ve been focusing on ways to make this Lenten season come alive. This week I offer a challenge: connect with friends and family now and make plans to join them at church on Easter Sunday, for God speaks in wondrous ways during times of corporate worship. Allow the anticipation of the event to build joy into your Lenten experience. There is much to look forward to as April 16 approaches.

Interestingly enough, this garden illustration reveals one of the secrets to satisfying worship: to experience God in ways you can genuinely detect, there must always be an element of expectation as well as perseverance. We must regularly incorporate into our lives experiences with private as well as corporate worship.

There is some toil. There is personal responsibility built into the experience. To choose the role of the consummate consumer and say that others must perform well enough or the show must be good enough to entice another visit from you is based on a false sense of entitlement. God longs for you to participate. Investigate. Trust. Embrace a level of vulnerability and break down preconceived notions and roadblocks.

As we move through this Lenten season, why not set a second plan into motion to better understand how you like to worship God on an individual level. Perhaps you like to listen to worship music on the radio as you get ready for the day or drive to work. Why not stick in a CD and load the dishwasher? A walk on the beach, playing a musical instrument, blogging on the Internet, walking your dog, fixing a cup of tea, and looking out as the sun rises are all good ways to worship. My mother-in-law is a member of a large quilting guild and she serves on a committee that sews quilts that are donated to police and fire stations, adoption agencies and emergency relief organizations. Sewing quilts and envisioning the love and warmth they will provide is her way of worshipping a God who hovered nearby and never abandoned her, even when her parents died, leaving her orphaned before the age of 2.

On a foundation of private worship add the experiences of corporate worship and be encouraged that Easter is a great time to visit a church. There will be many people in attendance who are visiting just like you. In this situation there is comfort in numbers and if this is a new experience for you, be assured that you will be warmly welcomed. Do not worry that you will be singled out as there are too many visitors this time of year and the program will be too full for individual introductions. Watch others around you if you are unsure what to do. Most of all, take in the music, decorations, and various forms of celebration. You will see friends, co-workers and acquaintances. It will feel good to be part of something so joyous.

Tend to your private garden by adding new ways to worship. In time you will see the fruits of your labors and hear God’s voice in surprising new ways.

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