I have heard people say that there is no way one can travel to Alaska and come away without belief in God. I have also heard people apply this saying to other places they have traveled. I have had that experience in many travels, some of which are not as exotic as going to Alaska. If we really pay attention, we can have that experience in our own backyard, no matter where we are. It is simply a matter of opening our eyes and seeing Him around us. And when we do see Him our response is often one of reverence, or at least it should be.
The dictionary defines reverence as "a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration." Further, it says reverence is "a gesture indicative of deep respect." What we see and experience in our lives should somehow spill over into our response to God including when we are at our weekly worship. For example, I was at a church recently in which everyone not only stayed and sang all 4 verses of the closing hymn, but as soon as the hymn was over, they dropped back to their knees and prayed a thanksgiving prayer together. I was amazed at the reverence of the assembly! What is even more amazing to me is that I was amazed at all! This should be the norm everywhere.
So why is it that some of us make a bolt for the door after communion every week? It seems to be a lack of that gesture of deep respect which we call reverence. While I do think from time to time there are legitimate reasons for leaving early, I think some do not realize that we are at Mass to worship an awesome God. Though it is a good start, it is not enough to put in our hour, sort of like punching the clock to get the requirement in. It means truly meeting our God there. Would we ever dream of entering Heaven, putting in an hour for our dose of the presence of Jesus, and then leaving because we did our duty? Unthinkable! Blessed John Paul II says this of the Eucharist: "The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey." We receive the Eucharist at Mass, but we do not simply come to receive, we come to give also.
Imagine being invited to a dinner party at the house of a beloved friend. Imagine further that there are many people there, some of whom you do not know and some of whom you do know. The host prepares a delicious meal and serves it at the table. But some of the guests have picked up a magazine and are reading it during the conversation and meal; some are sneaking a peak at their smartphones, some are engaged in conversation with each other, but not with the host who is speaking, and others are attentive and engaged with the host. Then as soon as the main course is over and the host begins to clear the dishes for dessert, a third of the guests get up without so much as a good bye or thank you, and head out the door, so that when the host returns, there are empty chairs around the table before the meal has even ended. None of us would dare be that ungracious or rude. Yet we do it at Mass when the Host is none other than the Lord Himself, and the food is His own body and blood given for us.
I believe that the reason for this is a loss of understanding, and thus reverence, for what is really going on when we go to Mass on Sunday. I think our hearts are in the right place or we would not be there at all, but I do think it would be wonderful to realize that it is not over until the last note of the last hymn ends. Why? Because that last hymn is our praise to God; regardless if we croak like a toad or sing like an opera star, God hears with perfect pitch and all attempts at song/praise are delightful to His ears. The point is that we are not there to simply receive, though we do receive a lot. We receive God's presence in the priest, assembly, Word, and Eucharist. That alone is worthy of reverence. We are in the presence of the living God! Maybe we need to allow ourselves to realize this and to let our faith help us to see Him in these ways. Maybe we need to pray for the grace to see beyond what is tangible and to see beyond our humanness. If we begin to realize more actively Whose presence we are in, our gestures such as genuflection before the tabernacle and bowing to the altar will make more sense rather than something we do without knowing why we are even doing it!
We are also there to give. God gives us so much and we are His people. As a people we come together to offer our thanksgiving and praise: we give praise for all the graces and blessings we have received, the beauty of creation, and the very love of our God. We also have so much to pray for, so many needs. Even though not every need is spoken aloud, we do join them and lay them on the altar as we pray together as an assembly. We pray for our world, for peace, for an end to injustice, for our beloved ill or dead, for jobs, economic stability, for the poor, for our nation, our elected officials, our relationships, and so forth. God hears it all, and He does respond, even if not immediately or not in the way we expect. It would be so ungracious and rude, and a show of a lack of gratitude, if we were to leave before we truly thanked Him for listening. There is really nothing more important in the grand scheme of things than being with our God who gives us strength and purpose and oh, so much love. Our lives are about knowing and loving and serving Him. Everything we have is a gift from Him. We come from Him and we are trying to return to Him. Therefore, it is so important we spend time with Him in order to find our way home.
Reverence is a response. A good way to develop reverence inside the church is to understand why we worship as we do; that is, some understanding of the liturgy goes a long way. If we listen to the prayers said both by the priest (or deacon) and by the congregation, we will know what we believe. Another way to find this reverence is to learn to see God in what He has made. Creation reflects the Creator. God is an incredible artist! One does not have to go far to see His handiwork. I used to be afraid I would have an accident while driving when I first moved to Texas, not because of bad drivers, but because the sky and clouds were so beautiful that they were almost distracting. I have been here many years and still feel that way. If we can learn to see the beauty of nature around us as a mirror for the Creator who made it, we can let our hearts be moved with reverence. If we can look at the beauty around us whether we are traveling far or near or simply stepping out on our back porch, we can be moved to that feeling of deep respect and awe which can then move us to veneration, such that we are enabled to make a gesture of deep respect to our God of all creation. This can fuel our attitude of reverence both inside our churches and inside the house of God we call nature.
May we look upon the ordinary and see how extraordinary it really is. May we see and experience the presence of God in all He has created, especially in the beauty of nature. May we be moved with wonder and awe such that we respond with a gesture of reverence. May we be moved to experience God especially as we worship Him daily in our prayer and weekly as an assembly. And may our hearts be opened to the grace of Wonder and Awe at His presence. Let us meet in the Heart of Our God of All Creation. Peace!
The photography is mine.
Top picture: The Anaktuvuk River, north of the Arctic Circle in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska.
Bottom picture: The moon, of course.
Heart Speaks to Heart