"Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto me? And what place shall be my rest? For all these things hath mine hand made, and so all these things came to be, saith the Lord: But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth in awe at my word."
This week I came across an essay written by the 19th century champion of German Jewish Orthodoxy; Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch 1808-1888, which has impressed me considerably. These are his words:
"Houses of God, Divine Services, are of secondary importance; for what is generally known as Divine Worship has in the sphere of (God's) Teaching neither the same meaning nor the same aim. The Divine Service of (God's) Teaching, is life itself, and to worship God means to obey the laws of God. Not by the manner in which you build His House, decorate His Temple, chant hymns and pray unto Him will God recognise you as belonging to Him, but by the manner in which you build and sanctify your own homes, serve Him in your everyday life, in your marriage, in the education of your children, in your family, your whole social relationship; whether and how you serve Him with your thoughts and feelings, your speech and your actions, your business life and your enjoyment; whether you fulfil in all these spheres the revealed Will of God - that is how God will judge you to see whether or not you are His servant. Temples, Houses of God, Divine Service do not testify anything to God, they exist in order to act as witnesses for you, to remind you of your God, to declare to you your task, to save you from the vicissitudes of life, to collect your thoughts as you appear before your God, to make you reflect upon your own self, to re-create for you again and again a true conception of your own self, your destiny and your whole relationship to God. The....houses of worship exist in order that (man) should prepare himself within them for the service of God in life. They are thus not for God but for man. For God is only there - and He is always there - where you allow Him to be Master and Father; where you submit yourself with a joyful heart to His rule, leadership, and teaching; where you are His servant, His disciple and His child."
Collected Writings Sivan 1
These compelling, reasoned and well written words remind us that the religious and spiritual life is to be lived holistically, and should not be confined solely to the house of worship.
Chaya Sara Kramer, a survivor of the Holocaust, when asked if she had been angry with God while in Auschwitz replied that she had not. "About the Holy One, Blessed be He, I didn't think anything except good, He created man and He sustains him. How can anyone doubt His goodness?" She then went on to reveal that in Auschwitz she, with The Eternal always in mind, strove to exercise the only power she had; the power to choose good, in her case by observing as many Jewish laws as she could, and assisting her fellow prisoners in all their needs as much as she could. With the perspective of this amazing women every theatre of life can be seen to contain opportunities to engage in worship. According to her biographer and friend, Sara Yoheved Rigler, Chaya Sara's world-view held that "a person reclining in the luxury spa of a five-star hotel who insults the waitress who brings her a glass of iced tea is in a far worse place than a girl keeping the Sabbath in Auschwitz".
How strongly all this reminds me of the words of our teacher's brother:
"What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? Can that faith save him?.....Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.
There is nothing at all wrong, or so it seems to me, in working to craft beautiful and uplifting services, to relish our shared times of worship, or to beautify our churches. All these things are important. But our relationship with the Divine does not begin when we enter through the doors of our chapels and churches, nor does it end when we leave. Rousing hymns, elegant music and candle/chalice lightings are of no value if our behaviour at home or at work fails to sanctify the name of God, or fails to honour His image in those around us. For as Jesus taught:
"But go ye and learn what this meaneth, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."
I shall certainly try to keep in mind these lessons as I journey to chapel on Sunday, and will try to use the time in shared worship to rededicate myself to and remind myself of, my task and responsibilities as a child of God, to both my Maker and all His creations.
"Dearly beloved brethren, God, in whom we live and move and have our being, never leaves us, day or night. But the very nearness and custom of His presence hide Him from our infirm and sinful hearts; and under cover of this darkness, our inner discernment becomes dim, temptations gain a shameful power, and the good that is in us droops and fades. To clear such blindness away, and recover the pure wisdom of a Christian mind, we are called to this day of remembrance and this house of prayer."
James Martineau Home Prayers With Two Services for Public Worship