“Let man’s soul be a sphere and then, in this,
the intelligence that moves, devotion is”
These are lines from a poem by John Donne (1573-1631), hardly contemporary but still wonderfully insightful. We have all sorts of words for worship these days: praise/adoration/contemplation but I think loves this phrase, worship or ‘devotion’ is ‘the intelligence that moves us’.
Worship might also be described as the act of putting ourselves in God’s presence with the express purpose of appreciating ‘him’ or being with ‘him’ (sorry pronouns bother me, God is not him or her, God is just God).
But even the word ‘appreciate’ feels weak – you appreciate your granny when she knits you some socks, you appreciate a friend or neighbour who helps you out with a chore.
To appreciate God is something far stronger than a moderate sense of reasonable gratitude. To really worship is to spend time opening your heart, mind and soul to God’s qualities and attributes, to put yourself consciously in God’s presence and to bend your heart, mind, soul and strength to worship – to acknowledge the superiority and strength of the ‘other’, of God himself.
Donne’s definition of worship has, almost by accident, a surprisingly modern feel. He writes that we, being like spheres are pulled in one direction or another by either external forces: “being by others hurried every day”; or by internal forces: “pleasure or business” whirl our souls.
These feel like good descriptions of the phenomena that is modern life so often conspiring to keep us from worship.
I say ‘by accident’ because Donne had in mind the idea of the universe being a set of nested spheres the earth at its centre. But even in his day astronomers had begun to notice that planets followed erratic courses and “scarce in a year their natural form obey”.
This image and this phrase reminds me of those whose faith only finds expression at those annual pitstops of Christmas and Easter.
Donne’s image of a sphere makes me think of a set of weighted carpet bowls that my parents used to own. Holding an internal bias, not one of them would ever roll in a straight line. To help them reach their goal you had to remember to roll them with regard to their internal weighting.
All of us have a natural internal bias that rolls us away from God.
It therefore takes conscious effort and a certain degree of discipline to practice what Donne calls ‘devotion’ but there is a rich benefit when we do spend time in worship, adoration, praise or contemplation. As we do so we gather ‘the intelligence that moves us’. Use the word intelligence in the way that you would find it used in spy dramas i.e. ‘information’ and we realise that worshipping God allows us to see the world and ourselves through the lens of knowledge, insight or information about the world’s creator. In essence when we worship we see things as they truly are.
Take time to worship and you may be surprised that a whole world may be contained in a drop of water.
I appreciate your insight. I wonder, sometimes, if some of what is diagnosed as “mental illness” could not be relieved with truly placing ourselves in God’s Presence on a more regular basis. Thanks