Ineluctably Created to Worship

Let me begin by quoting a few lines from a now well-known commencement address by David Foster Wallace, on the occasion of Kenyon College‘s 2005 Commencement [published later as This is Water]:

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship…. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.

The notion that everybody — including atheists — worships, in some fashion, is of course not original to DFW.  Nor is this notion uncontroversial.  One problem being how we should define or describe “worship.”  Be that as it may, let us move on by saying something less controversial: if not everybody, let’s say, many, many people worship some thing or someone or some ideal with the implicit hope that the object of worship will bring about happiness or beatitude in the worshipper.  This common feature indicated to Henri de Lubac, SJ (1896-1991) that humans are endowed with a desiderium naturale ad videndum Dei — translated as, a natural desire to see God.  Drawing on the medievals (Bonaventure, Thomas, and Scotus), de Lubac explains this combination of the natural and supernatural by parsing the natural in terms of desire and the supernatural in terms of how that desire is fulfilled.

Given this natural desire to see/experience God, what happens when something other than God becomes the object of that desire?  It is impossible to speak of all cases but we can say that in many, many cases the “worshipper’s” desire is not fully satisfied.  This dissatisfaction, in turn, can be an opening in a conversation that can eventually lead someone to God in Christ.  In a marvelously insightful and inspiring book, Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith offers us a deeper, truer understanding of ourselves — not primarily as thinkers (“I think, therefore I am”)  nor as believers (“I believe in order to understand”) — but as agents of desire or love (“I am what I love”).  Homo Liturgicus.  Smith writes, “Like the blind men pictured in Rembrandt’s sketches, for the most part we make our way in the world with hands outstretched, in an almost tactile groping with our bodies.  One might say that in our everyday, mundane being-in-the-world, we don’t lead with our head, so to speak; we lead out with our heart and hands” (p. 47).  This appreciation of ourselves and of one another as more than thinking things or as believing believers, but as creatures with a built-in desire to see God, creatures of heart and hand, creatures for whom God is the only true source of rest and love (recalling that old Augustinian prayer, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”), should, I hope, inform how we reach out in conversation to those who do not yet know salvation in Christ.

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1 Comment

  1. Wellington Pak

     /  February 12, 2013

    This is an insightful, helpful post–in particular, Smith’s “truer understanding of ourselves.” It seems to me, however, that the distinction among our thinking, believing, and loving selves is more blurred than his view would suggest. I think of how people often do pursue their heart’s desire to see/experience God, only to “meet” the Almighty via a fractured image of His true nature. Too often this is the result of an unfortunate mixture of negative religious experience and wrong-headed church doctrine. In this sense, it takes the renewal of the mind, aided by proper theology, to enable one’s heart to fully encounter Love Himself.


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