Office Hours: Making Space for Worship

The following is an opinion article, and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo

It’s been a tough year for the mental health on Tulane’s campus. We’ve had five suicides and dozens of medical withdrawals. Our Counseling and Psychological Services program is severely overextended. Many of the students I’ve gotten to know are overwhelmed and stressed out. As a campus minister, I have racked my brain about how to support the mental health of students who don’t share my specific religious beliefs. I’d like to propose that all of us make space in our lives for worship. It isn’t what you think.

The capacity to worship makes human beings different from other animals and even the smartest robots. Worship is more than organized religion. It can take the form of watching a beautiful sunset, dancing to a reggae band or blowing bubbles like my son enjoys doing. Worship means an agenda-less, self-transcending delight in beauty. It’s the way children live every day in their curious wonder, until they lose their innocence.

As children, we live in worship until we come to the point of discovering that we have a “self” to defend and promote. Then we stop worshiping and start performing for a self-perceived audience. This transformation starts around the age when we discover that nakedness is not accepted by our society. As we grow older and face competition and bullying from our peers, we clothe ourselves in layers of scripted performances through which we seek to fit in with others.

Our need to perform invades every aspect of our lives. Every time our experiences require an Instagram selfie for their validation, we are performing. Events that are supposed to be relaxing, like parties, become a production through which our self-worth is auditioned for approval. Any time we feel pressure to do something the right way or show others we’re having a good time, it’s a performance. Underneath the laughter is a deep need to prove that we are adequate.

We need a space where we can forget ourselves and savor the world like children. Religious worship services are supposed to provide a transcendent encounter of authentic delight. Yet worship services easily become performances where religious people compete to be the most pious worshiper. The more worshipers need everyone to know how into God they are, the more they have made it a production.

It’s hard to avoid making worship a performance. One simple idea we have tried in my campus ministry, NOLA Wesley, is what I call “Meditation Plus.” We start off by naming aloud the burdens and obstacles that keep us from forgetting ourselves. Then we spend 20 minutes practicing centering prayer in which each participant uses a sacred word to take a rest from rational thought. The goal is to stop the relentless commentary within our minds so that we can simply exist for a few minutes.

True worship is the raw delight of non-egocentric existence in which we embrace the love beneath everything that I call “God.” It’s not easy to gain this perspective, but when we do, it’s heavenly. During exam season this year, NOLA Wesley will open our worship space during the week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for students from all faith traditions to drop in and meditate. We hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to worship with us during a stressful season.

Morgan Guyton is the Director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation United Methodist Student Ministry. He can be reached through his blog www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice