Our eleventh article of faith reads:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.(Articles of Faith, 11)
Yet within our faith tradition, we often feel that we do not have the privilege of worshiping God according to our own conscience. We can feel compelled to adhere to specific beliefs about God and practices that may or may not be worshipful to us. Whether we are truly compelled to do these things or do them primarily because we choose community first and prioritize it over beliefs is an interesting discussion point. Joanna Brooks speaks of her husband’s Reconstructive Judaism as articulating three possible priorities when one practices within a religious tradition: Believing, Behaving, and Belonging. Do Latter-day Saints primarily value the first and second of these and have “belonging” somewhat conditional upon our sharing/doing these first two? What do we personally prioritize?
Joseph Smith spoke of a brother Petuliah Brown who was brought up to a high council court on the account of what he believed. He then spoke of how some faiths “have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled.” (JSP April 8, 1943). Joseph Smith then rejected the notion that Brother Brown, or anyone else, should be brought up to a church court on what one believes, or how one worships. Nevertheless, in today’s church, many of us have been brought into bishop’s offices or courts based upon what we have written online or said in podcasts regarding what we believe and how we worship. And when we muster up the courage to share a different perspective in Sunday classes or other LDS setting than the prevailing one, we sometimes are met with subtle or even not-so-subtle pushback.
For the past half-century, LDS Church Correlation has put a box around what we are to believe and how we are to worship. Even the kind of music in our services has been narrowly defined at times to exclude anthems of faith that aren’t in the standard hymnal. Church prayer structures are rigidly defined, and both talks and Relief Society/priesthood lessons are to be derived from General Conference talks. While this may work for many members, others of us find our church experiences to be lacking soul and spirit, driving us to seek spiritual, worship experiences elsewhere.
The 11th Article of Faith also provides a jumping off point for examining what it means the “worship.” Does God require that we “worship” Them? Is Worship for the egos of God and an unlocking their willingness to bless us, or is worship for us? What does/can worship unlock within us? What kind of worship do we find in LDS meetings? How does it differ from the meeting structures and emphases of other traditions we are familiar with? If we do not find within our own tradition what we hope we’d find in terms of worship yet still choose to stay connected and engaged, what practices do we turn to in order to fill this need?
In our Latter-day Faith Virtual Firesides, held on July 20th and 23rd, 2023, we discussed the idea of “Worship According to Conscience.” The attendees identified wonderful concepts around what worship might be for each of us. While we don’t publicly share what was discussed in these private firesides, the group identified a few books that have affected them quite positively in understanding how and what to worship. Here is the list of books we discussed in the firesides:
A Brief and Incomplete annotated Bibliography on the Topic of Worship
Brisbin, David (2014). The Fifth Way: A Western Journey to the Hebrew Heart of Jesus. Independently Published. ISBN 978-1499341669. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Fifth-Way-Western-Journey-Hebrew-ebook/dp/B00P6KUVCQ.
When Jesus of Nazareth presented his view of God and life, he did so in a deeply ancient and Eastern way, a way completely unlike the four ways we normally approach life-a Fifth Way. Deep inside our Western worldviews, there is a difficult intellectual and emotional way to the Way that must be negotiated first, a jarring movement from West to East that brings us only to the starting point, to the gate of the Way to the freedom Jesus promises.
There is virtually no major concept of Jesus’ message and teaching that we can take at face value, that we can read as a “simple” meaning once translated into our own language. It’s not that our translations are bad; they’re amazingly accurate. We have the right words-we just don’t know what they mean anymore or understand the Eastern environment in which they are really “true.”
The Fifth Way makes the reality of God’s love consistent and clear throughout Scripture. In personal and emotional journal entries and colorful concepts and stories, the author describes the sensations of traveling between worldviews, to the meeting place of ancient Scripture and everyday life in today’s world.
This Fifth Way is not a thought to be contemplated, but an action to be lived. It’s not a creed or a doctrine to believe, but a way and a quality of life to enjoy. You can’t know the Way until you’re on the Way, and you won’t engage the Way until you’ve traveled the interior distance that stands between us and those who first followed this Hebrew Jesus.
Brisbin, David (2019). Daring to Think Again: Restoring Jesus’ Original Challenge to the Faith We Think We Know (The Fifth Way Book 2). Independently Published. ISBN 978-1792315695. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Daring-Think-Again-Restoring-Challenge-ebook/dp/B07ZZMJNL5.
In Daring to Think Again, Brisbin challenges us to rethink the often toothless spiritual traditions we have accepted, in favor of discovering the real Jesus—one who offers an approach to thought and growth that stands opposed to our common formulas of faith. Rather than wrestling others into our frames of knowledge in an attempt to cement our hold on truth, Jesus suggests the greatest spiritual truths are held only when we have finally released our grasp on the way we have been trained to see our world, our faith, and our God.
Givens, Terryl and Fiona (2014). The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections On the Quest for Faith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. ISBN 978-1609097420. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Crucible-Doubt-Terryl-Givens-ebook/dp/B00MI3VWV8.
Faith is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So what happens when a person has doubts?
Questioning is not the problem, according to authors Terryl and Fiona Givens. “After all,” they write, “the Restoration unfolded because a young man asked questions.” The difficulty arises when questions are based on flawed assumptions or incorrect perceptions, which can “point us in the wrong direction, misdirect our attention, or constrain the answers we are capable of hearing.”
This book offers a careful look at doubt—at some of its common sources, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it may open up in a person’s quest for faith. Whether you struggle with your own doubts or mostly want to understand loved ones who question, you will appreciate this candid discussion. You’ll come away feeling more certain than ever of the Lord’s love for all of His children.
Johnson Elizabeth A. (2002). She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad/Herder and Herder. ISBN: 978-0824522070. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075NS4KMC.
This classic text explains what feminist theology is and how we can rediscover the feminine God within the Christian tradition, offering a profound vision of Christian theology, women’s experience, and emancipation. First published in 1992, it immediately caused a groundswell reaction for and against the concept of women’s participation and role in the Christian church. It is both controversial and thought provoking. It served as the seminal text in the analysis of woman and Christianity.
Keltner, Dacher (2023). Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1984879684. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Awe-Science-Everyday-Wonder-Transform-ebook/dp/B09X52Q7SS.
Dacher Keltner presents a radical investigation and deeply personal inquiry into this elusive emotion. Revealing new research into how awe transforms our brains and bodies, alongside an examination of awe across history, culture, and within his own life during a period of grief, Keltner shows us how cultivating awe in our everyday life leads us to appreciate what is most humane in our human nature. And during a moment in which our world feels more divided than ever before, and more imperiled by crises of different kinds, we are greatly in need of awe. If we open our minds, it is awe that sharpens our reasoning and orients us toward big ideas and new insights, that cools our immune system’s inflammation response and strengthens our bodies. It is awe that activates our inclination to share and create strong networks, to take actions that are good for the natural and social world around us. It is awe that transforms who we are, that inspires the creation of art, music, and religion. At turns radical and profound, brimming with enlightening and practical insights, Awe is our field guide, from not only one of the leading voices on the subject but a fellow seeker of awe in his own right, for how to place awe as a vital force within our lives.
Rahner, Karl, S.J. (1978). Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity. New Yord: Crossroads/Herder and Herder. ISBN 978-0824505233. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Foundations-Christian-Faith-Introduction-Christianity-ebook/dp/B0B7P41FCF.
Karl Rahner was the primary Catholic theologian behind Vatican II, where the entire notion of “worship” within the Roman Catholic church was completely transformed. Rahner’s theological language is so difficult to understand that his brother joked that some day the future, he would translate his brother’s work into the “original German.” Although “Foundations” is a difficult read, it radically transforms our notions of Christian Faith and worship. The core principle of Rahner’s theology and approach to worship is reflected in his statement: “The Immanant Trinity is the Economic Trinity and vice versa.” For Catholics and Latter-day Saints, this statement demands explanation, and it simply means that the internal relations and being of the Godhead are exactly the same as God’s engagement with the world through the history of salvation and in our daily lives. Worship, therefore, cannot be separated from life itself. Rahner writes: “The doctrine of the Trinity is not a subtle theological and speculative game, but rather is an assertion which cannot be avoided. It is only through this doctrine that we can take with radical seriousness and maintain without qualifications the simple statement which is at once so very incomprehensible and so very self-evident, namely, that God himself as the abiding and holy mystery, as the incomprehensible ground of man’s transcendent existence is not only the God of infinite distance, but also wants to be the God of absolute closeness in a true self-communication, and he is present in this way in the spiritual depths of our existence as well as in the concreteness of our corporeal history.” (p.137)
Sonntag, Kathryn Knight (2022). The Mother Tree: Discovering the Love and Wisdom of Our Divine Mother. Meridian, ID: Faith Matters Publishing. ISBN: 978-1953677112. Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Tree-Discovering-Wisdom-Divine-ebook/dp/B09XG49WH8.
Who is Heavenly Mother, and do we have an individual imperative to seek Her as we do the Father and the Son? If so, how do we come to know Her? In The Mother Tree, poet and landscape architect Kathryn Knight Sonntag addresses the rising world-wide hunger to know a Mother God by asking these and other stirring questions. What follows is an exploration into the symbolic realm of the tree of life, Mother’s chosen metaphor in scripture, to discover Her regenerative powers in root work, the grounded now of Her trunk, and the divine wisdom of the heavens in Her leafy crown. The Mother Tree presents a generous new framework for spiritual ascent—the feminine path of transformation through the archetypal tree—as a complement to the more familiar masculine way, pointing ultimately to the harmony of feminine and masculine wisdom; it is a balance needed for the healing of the soul and the world.
Thomas, Catherine (2010, 2014). Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life. Salt Lake City: Digital Legend Press. ISBN 978-1934537749. Amazon Kindle Version (updated 2014): https://www.amazon.com/Light-Wilderness-Explorations-Spiritual-Life-ebook/dp/B007EWRPUU.
Man’s mind is the spiritual frontier. As we come to understand the difference between the experience on the Natural and the Spiritual Mind, we gain greater access to the unseen spiritual realities. We find the Light in our Wilderness is literal, and that it continually seeks access to our awareness. Catherine Thomas invites fellow seekers to search behind familiar gospel words and concepts to find greater revelation.
Thomas, Catherine (2020). The God Seed: Probing the Mystery of Spiritual Development. Salt Lake City: Digital Legend Press. ISBN 978-1937735807. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/God-Seed-Probing-Spiritual-Development-ebook/dp/B00Y90W730.
We believe many things but don’t always know how to implement them. We believe that human beings can grow into Gods; we accept the importance of coming to Christ and also of awakening our divine attributes and powers — but how to do that seems obscure. Likely a list of spiritual to-do’s ceases to serve. So we may find ourselves seeking a more fulfilling path — but where to set our foot?
In recent years, studies in adult developmental psychology have cast unexpected light on the path to Godhood. They illustrate that human beings already possess the potent seeds for unfolding into more highly developed beings. We learn that spiritual practices can shape the mind into and instrument for facilitating spiritual growth and experience, that is, for continuing from “grace to grace.” Along the way, venturing into the unknown, we shed false concepts about ourselves, about our reality, and about God Himself.
The purpose of this book is to explore the path of spiritual development.
Webber, Robert E. (1994). Worship Old and New. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. ISBN 978-0310479901. Amazon Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Worship-Old-New-Historical-Introduction-ebook/dp/B000SETDV0.
An academic and scholarly look at the history and future of the practice of worship, expressed from the perspective of Evangelical worship leaders and their congregations. The main purpose of this book is to examine the biblical roots, historical development, and theological meaning of worship. The secondary purpose is to seek ways in which the old practices can be applied to modern worship. This edition is divided into four major sections, addressing:
- The biblical foundation of worship—found in the Old and New Testaments as well as the early Christian movement.
- The biblical theology of worship—how worship is an enactment of the Gospel.
- A brief history of worship—from ancient and medieval, to twentieth-century renewal.
- An overview of how worship is practiced—from content and structure, to the role of music and art.
Information is incorporated into each section to give you a better grasp of the biblical themes of worship, a deeper understanding of Old Testament customs, and a solid grounding in modern-day renewal movements.