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Worshipping in Spirit and Truth

I'm editing my first devotional, Where True Love Is, to use inclusive language and to update a few theological points. It's amazing how much your views can shift over time. I'm keeping the book largely as is for the second edition, so it will still be geared toward those beginning deconstruction and still largely steeped in conservative or evangelical Christian thought. But it will be better.

Here's a passage I worked on recently. I particularly like the closing paragraphs.

Day 57: Worship in Spirit and Truth

The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

(John 4:19-24 NABRE)

In today’s passage we find Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, where he stopped for a drink on his walk from Judea to Galilee. They’re nearing the end of their conversation, and the woman seeks spiritual wisdom from him, not yet realizing he is the Messiah.

She’s surprised he would talk with her at all. Samaritans were despised by Jews for not following the customs of the law as the Jewish people believed they should. The woman brought up the issue of where sacrifices were to be offered; at the temple on Mt. Gerizim, or in Jerusalem. Despite knowing a Jewish man would disdain her, both for being a Samaritan and for her history with men, she sought knowledge from him. She sought truth. She wanted to know what the right way to worship really was.

Jesus’ response is profound. He didn’t tell her which was the right place to worship. Quite the contrary; he talked about “true” worship. True worship is not about the rules of place and laws of behavior. He pointed out that God is spirit, and said we’re to worship in spirit and truth.

Worshiping in spirit is an action of union, in which the Holy Spirit implanted within us reaches out to join with the Spirit of the Trinity. It’s experiential rather than cognitive. It’s a matter of heart and will rather than of thought and reason. It’s an act of opening and reaching rather than reading and preaching. When we worship in the spirit we’re erasing our own boundaries in order to better merge with God’s boundlessness.

This is not possible when we demand worship take place on a particular site or be constrained by the pages of a book, no matter how holy. To do so we have to acknowledge what Jesus told us; the Creator desires us to join with them, spirit to Spirit. Wordless, placeless, and without boundaries.

I wept at the beauty of your hymns and canticles, and was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of your Church singing. These sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth streamed into my heart.

St. Augustine of Hippo


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