Friday, January 30, 2009

My Heroic Quest

Finally, after a couple of little detour posts, we’re here, at the heart of renewal. For me, the heart of renewal is worship, and at the heart of worship is God, Himself. I’ve been eagerly waiting to get to this place, where the focus begins to shift from me and my stumbling efforts to the majesty of who He is.

Renewal brings us into the conscious presence of God, and that’s where worship happens. Worship happens there naturally, because it’s the right and healthy response to being in the presence of our Good Creator.

But here’s a hiccup in our journey: Is God really good? If He is good, why does he demand worship? Is he greedy for admiration and affirmation? Does He need us to inflate his ego? Sounds so selfish. Can God be selfish? Is it really all about Him? How can that be good?

There are probably lots of good definitions of worship, but I like this one:

The chief end of man is to love God and to enjoy Him forever.

To love and enjoy. To take pleasure in God.

It’s true that our worship brings God pleasure, but His pleasure and ours are inseparable. His call to worship is a call to take part in His joy. We are confused about His motives because we are inward focused beings. Our world is all about us, and we’re all our world is about. But God is outward focused, so when it’s about God, it’s about all of us too. His goodness does not stand apart from our good. His goodness engulfs us.

This concept of God’s outwardness does not come naturally to us because of our brokenness. We are inward-bent beings and we can’t imagine anything else. We were created to be outward focused beings, like God. That’s part of what it means to be created in His image. It’s as if God created us with a silver cord that ran from our hearts to His. The cord drew us outward to Him and held us there, in perfect relationship, and joy ran back and forth between us along this cord like melody on a violin string.

When God told Adam and Eve that disobedience would bring them death, He was talking about the breaking of this cord. They sinned. The cord broke. And the whole human race curled up on itself like the released coil of a spring. No attachment to anything or anyone. No purpose or foundation or security. No focus but inward on itself. No vision of goodness except the slowly fading shadow of its original soul-filling view of the Creator’s face.

Yesterday I was subbing in a Grade 11 English class. The kids were studying myths, specifically the mythic theme of the heroic journey. In this public high school, the curriculum invited me to teach the students about the ultimate mythic journey—a person’s search for attachment to something—his search for purpose, for the foundation, for the security that was lost with the Fall.

I was able to tell the students that each of them will face, at some point in their lives, the hero’s challenge. They’ll have to decide whether or not to “answer the call.” To leave the comfort and safety of their known world and embark on the ultimate journey. To turn from their inwardness and seek something greater than themselves to worship.

Joseph Campbell, the myth expert they were studying, says if a person refuses this “summons” to a greater life—if he chooses to make himself his god instead—His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless. . .Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death. . .All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration. In other words, he will curl up on himself and die.

Sadly, Campbell’s view of God is a hideous one. He speaks of a selfish god, much like the fickle, foolish gods the Greeks and Romans worshiped—a God who would demand worship for His own selfish sake. Campbell's god--the god who calls to the heroic journey--is an enemy who has to be overcome in the process.

But our God is different. When we turned away from Him and curled up into our lonely selves, He missed us. He missed us so much that He did something to make possible the reconnection between His heart and ours. Instead of fighting against us as our enemy, He enabled our journey.

This enabling is the ultimate Story. It’s the redemptive Story ancient myths are made of. It’s the old, old story the Church has been telling for two thousand years. We’ve told it so often we’ve lost the wonder of it. But the wonder of the gospel—God’s good, outward focus—His dying so we could live—that’s what makes Him worthy of our worship, and our recognizing that goodness is what starts the melody running up and down the cord again.

I'm not sure I’m there yet. I hear strains of the melody now and then. I think I used to hear it more clearly. I want to get back to that place and move beyond it. I want to sit in the orchestra pit and let the sound reverberate around me. I want worship to become as natural again as breathing. I want to become a part of the music. To lose myself in it. That’s the ultimate goal of my journey to renewal. The goal of my heroic quest.

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