I stepped out of my front door this morning in order to head to work and suddenly I stopped short. The air was very still. This in itself was very odd because normally, where I live, wind is an ever-present. However, it wasn’t the lack of wind which made me stop. It was, of all things, a smell; a welcoming, honest smell.
In the darkness of an early morning in winter, the street lights shone like amber halos on the pavement below and hanging in those halos was a shimmering fog. Not a thick fog like you would find in a Sherlock Holmes story, but a thin vapor which sparkled and danced in the light zephyrs. My lungs breathed it in and my nose gathered the soft, sweet, clean aroma. It was delicious. I breathed deeper and stood still for a moment in the cold air. My chin raised to gather more of that sweetness andacross my face I felt a slight smile form from the enjoyment.
It was then that I realized what I was doing. I thought back to the memories of my dog Schultz, who passed away a few years ago. I remember him spending many hours outside in our back yard in various types of weather. He wasn’t a dog to sit still very often, much less one who could shut off his watchful, defensive brain, so when he was still and quiet you tended to pay attention. But on those times when he’d sit outside for those hours, you’d see him calm, restive, even, and quiet … and then you’d see his chin lift ever-so-slightly and sniff. His eyes – what you could see of them under his thick brows – would close and he’d let the breeze blow through his beard.
Often I wondered what he was thinking in those moments of calm. Was he getting some whiff of potential prey beyond the confines of our fenced yard? Was he breathing in a new type of smell from some blossoming plant, wondering what it was and comparing it to other smells held in his brain-catalogue? Or, was he only doing what every dog does? Just sniffing and analyzing, sifting through a hundred different smells carried to him? If any of those are true, they would all be natural to him … and as a result of him doing what was natural to him, they would then be an act of worship to his Creator.
God made Schultz to smell, to sift, to analyze. He made him to be restless most of the time, but He also made Schultz to sit still and raise his chin into the breeze. God made him to take those moments of calm and to enjoy them. So, even if Schultz lacked the capacity in his small brain to proceed anywhere further than an idea like, “Ooh! What’s that smell?” he was a joy and worship to God because he was doing what God made him to do. And I love that idea: that God is glorified when His creatures do what He created them to do.
For a moment this morning, what I was created to do overlapped with Schultz’ purpose. It was right and decent and proper … even destined and decreed and providential … that I should, for a moment, lift my own chin and beard into the sparkling air and breathe in the glory of God on an early February morning. For in that measure of time, that was my purpose. It was one of those rare moments when my purpose was evident to me. One of those exceptional periods of clarity amidst confusion. A split second of lucidity through a haze of spiritual inebriation. How can I hold back? How can I stay my mind from worship?
No, I am not in any way saying that worship is instinctive for meor for any other human. It may be innate and a matter of instinctfor Schultz and for other animals. Which would be something which makes them special and therefore to be appreciated. Afrightened deer leaping through a gap in the trees is a glory to God. An annoyed squirrel chattering in an oak is a praise. Even a rat nosing about in the refuse and filth of its surroundings is doing what God created it to do and therefore honoring God. But as for us humans – broken as we are by the fall in the Garden of Eden – we’ve got a problem. It’s a very real and painful problem. A problem so horrible that it has completely corrupted our purpose. Thus, in not being able to live according to the purpose for which God made us, we make worship of Himimpossible.
Notice that I’m not saying that in this state of being where we are without God, we do not worship. I’m saying that worship of God is impossible. On the contrary, we absolutely mustworship. Worship is not something which is foreign at all to mankind. This is true to the extent that even if we pretend not to be religious, we end up founding a religion of self. Our appetites become our god, our idiosyncrasies become our measures of righteousness, and our milestones and accomplishments become our rites and sacraments. Though it’s a double-negative to say it, we are incapable of NOT worshipping.
Go ahead, look through the entire Old Testament and try to find a civilization or people who did not act religiously. Keep reading into the New Testament and find there the same Homo Religioso. Acts 17:21 explains that “all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new,” religiously and philosophically. Romans 1:20-23 shows how man (generally speaking) did not honor the God that they could see clearly around them, but made their own gods instead. Colossians 2:8-23 explains how the traditions of men take people “captive through philosophy and empty deception.” Read beyond the confines of sacred scripture and see millennia of history in which man always worships something, someone else, or him/herself. And, when paired with the exclusive statement of Jesus Himself while on earth, that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life [and that] no one comes to the Father but through [Him],” (Jn 14:6) we begin to realize that all actions become wrapped up in worship in either one way or another … either for God or against Him. Each breath we breathe is consumed – or subsumed – in pious devotion to something. Each word we speak is either praise or blasphemy.
Nevertheless are we able, while in our natural state, to worshipthe true God? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “No.” Even if we had not the words of Jesus in John 14:6, we would know that there is a stark separation of right and wrong – as nothing can be right/wrong if there is no truth at all. It is abinary as clear as light versus darkness and life versus death. How does one then go from darkness to light or from death to life? Or, to ask it another way, how can the dark worship the light? How can a dead thing worship a Living God?
We are told in sacred scripture what the answer is: the Spirit of God is the conduit from one to the other, acting as a “seal … [and] a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph1:13f). Oh! How glorious is that seal. That we should have the very redemption which is spoken here begin working backward from eternity, into our current incompleteness, in order to drive us to true worship … that worship which is in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21ff).
This morning, as I stepped down from my front porch and breathed the beauty and majesty of the morning, I have no doubt that without the Spirit of God in my life the smell of the air stillwould have been nice and the feel of the air appreciated. I may have thought the morning a wonder and a beauty … until the frustrations of work came later in the day and snatched it away. Or I may have, while in some pagan reverie, found it spiritual to stand in the mist and “become one” with nature … only to become jaded by the artificial surroundings of my office later in the day. Perhaps, in some truly bent and awful way I might have leveraged the beauty of the morning into an idea for making money or gaining fame or something sillier, and slaughtered the morning on the altar of mammon. That is what my morning could have meant. Another moment of beauty lost in the inexorable chasing moments.
Instead, the moment has grown even in the last few hours. It seems a living memory, growing and building in my mind – sweetening the day with its wonderful vapors. You see that, withthe Spirit of God inside of me, my heart exulted in the beauty of the morning and the worshipful seconds of soaking in the morning air have grown (and will grow) and become permeated by infinity because I am able – through the Spirit of God – to steep it in the eternal. It is this link to the eternal which transforms the moment into worship of a truly glorious kind. It transforms it from worship of a crude, temporal, man-made sort, into an honest and righteous communion with my Creator. His Spirit sanctifies the moment from darkness to light and death to life.
In other words, to redeem a moment, the man must be redeemed. It is only then that we do what we were originally created to do and tread the ground of Spiritual worship.
Oh! For an instinct to worship! Oh! For my natural desire to be for Him! That He may take my every moment and make them a glorious praise and that He may redeem my whole self from this body of darkness and death. Amen.