The Life Experience
I write this account as a way of sharing my personal religious experience in the acquired art of worship. For me, the telling is somewhat therapeutic and, for others who may have encountered similar circumstances in their lives, I hope it can serve as a positive affirmation.
Worship is simply the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for Deity. It is an extraordinary act of personal communion with the living presence of God. It is a way of tapping into a divinely creative power to bring about positive transformations of character, and it can provide remarkable spiritual insights. This is why The Urantia Book urges us to worship on a daily basis.
But over the years, I discovered that many spiritual seekers, including many readers of The Urantia Book, have difficulty engaging in sincere worship. This was certainly the case for me. It took me a long time to overcome this stumbling block, and I was able to do so only through some deep reflection, timid prayer, and the kind assistance of others. My ability to worship in a wholehearted manner was not something that came to me all at once, but rather bit by bit over an extended period.
I discovered the revelation at the age of twenty-three. From the moment I began to read it, I was convinced I had found the truth. At first, I was particularly drawn to the historical and scientific content, subjects that I readily absorbed. But, in retrospect, my understanding of the spiritual content was severely limited.
Despite my growing interest in this revelation, it did little to lift my spirits, cure my troubles, or make my life any easier over the following years. Even though I believed what I read, I was a very confused and emotional young man, much more confused than I could have possibly imagined at the time. Consequently, I continued to make poor decisions, and poor decisions led to more trouble and much heartache.
While I continued to find the material facts of the book intriguing, the spiritual messages failed to take hold, except on a rather superficial level. I thought I believed, I thought I had faith—but it was not genuine—I felt spiritually barren. For reasons unclear to me, I found it almost impossible to pray or worship sincerely. I simply could not conceive of a kind and loving Father in heaven, let alone bring myself to venerate him.
It took me many years to realize that my difficulties with worship stemmed primarily from my less-than-ideal relationship with my earth father, the serious implications of which I did not fully appreciate until later in life. Growing up, I lived in constant fear of my father and his fits of anger, yet I craved his love and attention. He was a cruel and selfish man, but he was also a loyal provider, intelligent, well educated, articulate, and at times, he could be quite humorous. He drank too much Canadian whiskey and smoked roll-your-owns. Around the house, it was like living with a British colonel, one who believed in the harsh adage “spare the rod and spoil the child.” The willow stick was his weapon of choice and he wielded it with gusto at the slightest misdemeanor, ruling with fear, intimidation, and ridicule.
My father never showed any affection toward me or my siblings—not once. And I can count on one hand the number of times we shared company in any outing. As I grew into my teens, I sheepishly resisted his cruel tactics, which only made matters worse. He had stopped using the stick by this time but continued to relish in verbal abuse. He was a man who would not tolerate differing opinions or any kind of dissent, and there was much dissention between us. We finally parted ways after a bitter argument. I was twenty years old at the time.
Sadly, my father and I had no chance to reconcile our differences because he died of cancer five years later at the age of fifty-two. Despite our sharp differences and personal estrangement, his death was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I was grief-stricken, angry, and confused. For decades, I literally could not speak of my father. Any words about him choked in my throat and brought inexplicable tears to my eyes.
This changed only when I reached my forties, almost twenty tumultuous years later. At the time, I was attending university and making an effort to overcome my fear of public speaking. Fortunately, the psychology department was looking for guinea pigs to test a new technique for the treatment of “social phobias,” of which a fear of public speaking was one. But the first thing they had me do, was to get cleared through a psychologist (to screen the unstable I presumed).
With great confidence in my own sanity, I stepped into the psychologist’s office to begin my first session. A pleasant and kindly woman greeted me, and I sat down with a smile to begin the interview. She started by asking a number of probing questions and, not more than fifteen minutes later, I was bawling like a baby. It was all about my father—the unspoken grief, the choking anguish, the unresolved issues, the unrequited love. For all those years, the pain had hung in my heart like a poisoned weight, inhibiting growth and blighting every relationship.
It took several visits to the psychologist’s office before I could talk about my father without gushing tears. But after a while, the pain eased, the weight lifted, and I began the slow healing process that comes with understanding and forgiveness. And as I looked more closely at my father’s life, the forgiveness came to me more easily.
My father was born in India in 1923 on a British tea plantation managed by his father. When he was just six years old, his younger sister died of malaria and his parents, fearful for the life of their only son, had him shipped off to a boarding school in Northern Ireland. In those days, British boarding schools were cold, stark, and demanding environments for a young boy. His parents visited him every five years and he had the occasional company of his aunts. With little emotional support from his family, he relied on his misled peers for guidance. And when he erred, as boys often do, he was beaten by prefects wielding cricket bats.
From boarding school, he attended college in North Wales where, ironically, he earned his senior matriculation in religion. After graduation, he joined the RAF and managed to survive 9,000 hours in the air. Following the war, he married my mother and they had three children before deciding to leave the rubble of England for a better life in Canada.
You begin to see that my father’s predicament was even worse than my own. He had virtually no parents at all. And through no fault of his own, he really had no concept about how to be a kind and loving father.
The conscious recognition of my unresolved issues, my father’s life, and my dawning forgiveness brought about significant changes in my viewpoint, and the subsequent healing experiences were profound. Not only was I feeling much better about myself, but I discovered a refreshing new interest in all things spiritual, which led me to take another look at the life and teachings of Jesus. As I studied and absorbed these papers again, I felt the beginning of a spiritual transformation. And when I came across the following passages, it was as though I was reading them for the first time.
As time passes, fathers and their children will love each other more, and thus will be brought about a better understanding of the love of the Father in heaven for his children on earth. [Paper 142:2.2, page 1597.2]
As long as we teach the child to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven,” a tremendous responsibility rests upon all earthly fathers so to live and order their homes that the word father becomes worthily enshrined in the minds and hearts of all growing children. [Paper 177:2.7, page 1923.1]
It was only through a study of Jesus’ life that I was able to dispel my deep-seated and tainted notions about fatherhood by replacing them with better concepts about what an ideal father should be. The more I came to know Jesus, the more I loved him, and this love eventually led to my conscious and final separation of the nature of my earth father from that of my heavenly Father. I came to replace an identity of fear with one of love, ridicule with respect, cruelty with compassion, and intimidation with consolation. I finally began to understand and accept in my heart the true nature of my divine Father and, with some excitement, I came to realize that he really does love me.
My parental experiences were not unusual. And it is a sad fact that many people have suffered throughout their adult lives as a result of the actions or words of unkind and unwise parents, even to the point of enduring terrible abuse. But all of us who have gone through such experiences need to make a concerted effort to rise above them if we wish to succeed. The process begins by clearly separating the undesirable qualities of our earth parents from the very desirable qualities of a beneficent God. It begins by knowing the true nature of God and thereby nurturing our faith in the infinite love, kindness, and goodness of a Divine Father. This process brings us to the realization that learning to love God is the beginning of worship.
The Worship Experience
I like clear definitions and useful techniques. Over time, praying to God seemed straightforward enough, although my prayers were perhaps a little selfish at first. Nonetheless, I understood that it was personally beneficial to pray for such things as courage, enlightenment, and spiritual receptivity. But when it came to worship, I remained uncomfortable. I needed to explore it further.
Worship is Communion
We often hear that worship is communion. But what is communion? The Urantia Book doesn’t use this term in the modern Christian sense, in reference to Christian unity, nor does it attach the ritual meaning of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Instead, the book uses the term in a common context which, in 1935, was defined by Webster’s as “fellowship, an intercourse between two persons.” The modern interpretation has changed little—it is “an act or instance of sharing” as defined in Webster’s 10th edition. It is even more helpful to look up some common synonyms for communion, which include such terms as: sharing, cooperation, communication, interaction, togetherness, agreement, and intimacy.
In other words, worship is sharing your life with God, communicating with God, cooperating with God, or interacting with God. It is a means of opening the spiritual channel through which God communicates with us, a channel that provides a continuous and beneficial stream of divine ministry. Worship literally opens a direct line to our Divine Creator, a real and vibrant spiritual connection.
Getting to Know God
Most of us understand worship as an act of veneration, adoration, and devotion, which it is. This seems simple enough, but what is it that we venerate and adore? Over the millennia, people have worshiped everything from phallic stones to Rolls-Royce gurus. But clearly The Urantia Book is not encouraging us to worship just for the sake of worship. Instead, the text is attempting to enlarge and expand our understanding and experience of the nature of God to the furthest limits of our creative imaginations. The revelators want us to know our Father to the fullest extent possible for a contemporary human mind.
Ezra, the tavern-keeper in Syracuse, told Jesus he could not find God. But Jesus said to him,
“Your trouble is not that you cannot find God, for the Father has already found you; your trouble is simply that you do not know God.” [Paper 130:8.2, page 1440.2]
To know God is to love him, and to love God is to know him. The more we come to know him, the more we truly desire to worship him; it becomes a natural and spontaneous reaction. We worship God for what we comprehend him to be, which is our highest concept of the personality and divinity of Deity. And this is one reason The Urantia Book dedicates the Foreword and the first five papers to an understanding of the nature, attributes, and relationships of God. But nowhere in the book is a knowledge of our Creator brought to such a human level of understanding as it is in the life and teachings of Jesus, our Father incarnate.
Check Your Attitude
Worship begins as a mental exercise—it is the conscious act of recognizing the truth and fact that we really do have a loving and personal relationship with our heavenly Father, a living spirit. Ultimately, the experience of worship transcends the mind, but the process begins with our thoughts. And worship comes much more easily to us if we are willing to accept the reality of our humble relationship with God.
The core of Jesus’ message is that God is our spiritual Father and, consequently, we are his sons and daughters. When we truly believe this, we come to realize that the reality of God is much, much more than his lowly creatures here on earth could ever imagine. To be able to climb the ladder of spiritual progress, we absolutely must be sincerely humble and completely trusting. Jesus took great pains to impress upon us that we must adopt an acceptable attitude of mind in order to feel the presence of God.
Not only is the divine nature best understood if we regard ourselves as children of God, but as Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven can best be realized by acquiring the spiritual attitude of a sincere child. By this, he meant acquiring a state of mind that believes without question and trusts completely. Trusting in the goodness of a heavenly Father is perhaps one of the most difficult steps for those of us who have experienced poor relationships with our parents, especially fathers.
Make a Choice
Worship is a choice, a powerful choice. The only power we really have is our free will—our freedom to choose. Neither God nor a Creator Son will interfere with our free will. It is sacrosanct. Consequently, if anything is going to happen we must consciously allow it to happen. Worship requires the free submission of our whole being to the embrace of God, thereby allowing our spiritualizing selves, our souls, to take control.
We ascend to true worship by being sincerely thankful. And one way to get our minds into this state of worship is by expressing prayers of gratitude. If you are unsure about what to be thankful for, I encourage you to ponder the seemingly magical presence of the Father’s Spirit within you, the Spirit of Truth beside you, and the Holy Spirit around you. All of these alluring spiritual forces work day and night in an attempt to re-create you as an eternal spirit being, as well as to reveal to you the amazing wonders of an almost limitless universe.
It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to the name of the Most High, to acknowledge his loving-kindness every morning and his faithfulness every night, for God has made me glad through his work. In everything I will give thanks according to the will of God. [Paper 146:2.15, page 1640.4]
Forget About Yourself
Forget yourself. Forget about what you did or what you said today, or what you should do and what you should say. Forget about the shopping list, forget about the bills. Focus your mind only on a loving God, by whatever name you choose to give him, and imagine as much as you can possibly imagine of his infinite love, his divine beauty, his eternal goodness, or any other divine quality you choose to venerate.
Submit to God knowing you have nothing to fear, knowing that only good things can come of it, knowing that he loves you as much as he loves any other being in the entire universe. Immerse your mind in the presence and love of a truly caring Divine Parent.
Find a Quiet Spot
Jesus spent days and weeks in communion with his Father. And when he did so, he always looked for a quiet place for his meditations, often in the beauty of nature. It’s very beneficial to worship in a place where you feel less likely to be disturbed in your contemplation. If you live in a busy household, try the bathtub!
Give It a Try
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We are continually reminded, in the very least, to make an attempt to commune with God. When you worship, don’t expect the angels of heaven to visit you. Just keep in mind that God knows everything you do and have faith that, in time, all attempted communion will eventually result in the very real experience of feeling the divine presence of the Spirit Within.
Man does not have to go farther than his own inner experience of the soul’s contemplation of this spiritual-reality presence to find God and attempt communion with him. [Paper 5:0.1, page 62.1]
Give it Time
We live in a time-space universe in which all events are limited by time. Patience, therefore, is a critical virtue in all our endeavors. When Simon Zelotes was first accepted as an apostle, his greatest weakness was his material-mindedness, and we are told that even four years in Jesus’ company was not enough time for him to make the intellectual and emotional transformation to being spiritually minded [Paper 139:11.4, page 1565.1]. Nonetheless, by faith and perseverance, he eventually succeeded.
The Benefits of Worship
Ideally, worship is a state of self-forgetfulness in which we are not motivated by anything we derive from it. But even this can be a bit of a paradox because, while worship supposedly asks for nothing in return, it actually delivers much.
Worship relaxes us. It helps us to overcome feelings of anxiety or stress and it helps to remove mental conflicts that may result in depression or confusion.
The relaxation of worship, or spiritual communion as practiced by the Master, relieves tension, removes conflicts, and mightily augments the total resources of the personality. [Paper 160:1.12, page 1774.4]
Worship sharpens the power of mind and reveals destinies. As such, we are better able to evaluate our thoughts and behaviors from a progressive spiritual viewpoint, as well as to envision a future life in the spirit.
The reflective powers of the mind are deepened and broadened by worship. Prayer may enrich the life, but worship illuminates destiny. [Paper 102:4.5, page 1123.5]
Worship is creative. It will re-create you, it will transform you, as Jesus promised it would. Incessant naval gazing or self-evaluation is not the answer. Instead, try worshiping a loving, beautiful, and good Divine Being as a powerful way to overcome personal deficiencies.
Worship, taught Jesus, makes one increasingly like the being who is worshiped. Worship is a transforming experience… [Paper 146:2.17, page 1641.1]
Overcoming Limitations to Worship
Worship and spiritual progress are limited only by our capacity for spiritual receptivity and the capacity to love God in return. So how can we increase our capacity for spiritual receptivity? We are told it all starts with the temple of the Spirit: body and mind.
Clean up Your Temple
All physical poisons greatly retard the efforts of the Adjuster to exalt the material mind, while the mental poisons of fear, anger, envy, jealousy, suspicion, and intolerance likewise tremendously interfere with the spiritual progress of the evolving soul. [Paper 110:1.5, page 1204.3]
Rid yourself of physical poisons. From personal experience, I realized it was almost impossible to commune with God when I was intoxicated in any way. One of the most insidious concepts kept alive in the modern era is that either alcohol or drugs can induce a spiritual state of mind. In truth, these substances block our spiritual channels and close our path to God. We must make a choice to follow God’s will, remembering that Jesus warned us not to presume on our Father’s love. God is not a foolishly indulgent parent ever ready to condone sin and forgive recklessness. [Paper 147:5.9, page 1653.3].
And avoid mental poisons. In today’s world of rampant social media, it’s easy to become highly opinionated, to hold grudges, to envy friends who have bigger houses or fancy cars, or to fear the future. But none of this is our Father’s will. Avoid these inhibiting mental states, especially when attempting to worship. Dissolve them in love, mercy, truth, beauty, and goodness and wash your mind clean.
Jesus said the greatest commandment of all is to
“…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” [Paper 174:4.2, page 1901.2]
The love of God leads to intelligent and wholehearted worship. God’s love for us never diminishes; it is an infinite love much greater than we can possibly imagine. We are limited in our ability to worship only by our individual capacity to love God in return. Once again, we can improve our capacity to love our Maker simply by learning more about his divine nature.
The reality of our worship experience has much to do with our spiritual status, which seems like another paradox because we cannot progress in worship until we progress in spiritual growth and vice-versa. But the problem can be addressed through the exercise of choice, not just choosing to worship, but in every choice we make. Our souls, our spiritual selves, evolve as a consequence of our life choices, especially high moral choices made under stress. It shows our determination to do the will of God under any circumstances.
Our Father’s will is not entirely a mystery. At times, moral choosing is relatively easy. Most of us are aware that such acts as lying, stealing, cheating, envy, or avarice are morally wrong choices. But at other times, knowing which choices to make is not always so straightforward. We can, however, always guide and gauge our thoughts, actions, and speech by their content of truth, beauty, and goodness, as well as by our expressions of love and compassion for others. And we should never dismiss the power of prayer and worship when looking for solutions.
Let God Do It
One very effective way to overcome our limitations to worship and make spiritual progress is to have unwavering faith and absolute trust in the work of the Father’s Spirit. Whenever we are challenged by our limitations, always declare:
Even if I cannot do this, there lives in me one who can and will do it… [Paper 4:4.9, page 59.5]
This is a compelling statement. It brings to mind the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous where the initial concept is to openly admit that you can’t do it by yourself—you must first give yourself and your problems over to a higher power. Trusting in the power and love of God to transform us is a rejuvenating experience that eases many of life’s burdens.
Do His Will
We are told time and again to do our Father’s will. But doing his will is not a slavish commitment to a set of rules, nor is it a drudging duty. If you feel God’s will is something you must force yourself to do, you have missed the point. It is, rather, something you really want to do, and it is the greatest and most exciting challenge of your life. You will delve into it happily and wholeheartedly, wanting to give it your utmost effort. Doing God’s will becomes a joyful obsession when we come to realize there is absolutely nothing more rewarding in life than an adventure with God. There really is no other path worth following.
Living your life as God wants you to live does not mean you are sacrificing your individuality. Jesus celebrated the uniqueness and individuality of everyone, and he loved them all. Each of us has a unique and special contribution to the evolution of the universe. Let God show you what you can do.
You Cannot Fail
The whole scheme of spiritual progression is interrelated. Our moral choices affect our worship and our worship affects our moral choices. The entire religious experience of the individual is one of correct choosing guided by prayer and worship—communion with our Creator.
However, God’s ability to help us is greatly retarded by our own preconceived opinions and long-standing prejudices. This was certainly true for me when it came to worship. But I was able to overcome my inhibitions by first becoming consciously aware of my deep-seated prejudices toward my earth father, and then by asking my heavenly Father to help me see the truth. To all who stumble: have faith, he will help you too.
If you yield to the leadings of the spiritual forces in you and around you, you cannot fail… [Paper 5:1.12, page 64.3]