I’ve attended Sunday morning worship services for more than 30 years. The traditional, predictable order of service has consistently left me deeply dissatisfied.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. More than the preaching style or the musical offerings, an intentional environment that curates and cultivates a deeper sense of internal, spiritual awareness and connection is key. No matter how long or short the worship service, if it was solely a religious meet and greet, then I always left hungry.
Perhaps it is because my soul has been satisfied on more than one occasion, and once you get a taste of divine delight, you no longer have an appetite for the Sunday morning special, the regular order of service: welcome and announcements, prayer, song, offering, sermon and benediction. I have long since grown weary of Sunday morning programming.
I’ve worshipped across Protestant traditions, from the charismatic to the contemplative. The way that worship is expressed on Sunday morning is important and meaningful, but it matters more to me how my faith is expected to perform throughout the week.
Anyone can be a good little believer for an hour. I need a worship service that satisfies my soulish longing for meaning and for that calling to be integrated the remaining six days of the week.
Frederick Buechner names the intersection plainly: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I consider that a soul feast and often it is not served at a church building. Fellowship meals are not synonymous.
Instead, Howard Thurman serves me well here. I am sustained by his words, particularly in his book Deep is the Hunger.
While presented like a collection of extended proverbs, I found myself titling each one to return to them with ease, creating my own listing. That was the easy part. Reading his words was harder. They gnawed on me, eating away any hope that a simplistic reduction of me or my religious experience would survive.
I needed to dig deeper. His words clung to me. I could not shake them off. Instead, they wanted personal application and answers that were not easily accessible.
I put the book down but then picked it back up again. I’ll admit, I threw it down too and looked back at it with disgust. I asked several times of its pages, “What do you want from me?”
It was by no means an easy read, which reminded me of the words of Thurman’s professor Dr. Cross, whom he writes about in his autobiography. “Do not waste your time on superficial books. Any book you can read in more than fifteen pages an hour is not worth your reading,” Cross warned.
Thurman had taken him seriously as I was, getting stuck on striking images and sentences but questions mostly. It took days to turn all its pages as his words were working on me.
More than meditations, they were invitations to acknowledge the depth of my soul’s craving. Thurman named what I expected to hear on Sunday mornings: a renewed call to work out my salvation and the salvation of my neighbor as a practice of faith.
“The assumption that because a thing is right or good, it will take care of itself without anything else being done, is false. There seems to be present in life a dramatic principle that is ever alert to choke off, to strangle, the constructively creative. … The good must be worked at, must be concentrated upon, if it is to prevail in any short-time intervals,” he writes in Deep is the Hunger.
Yes, that’s it! An hour or two on Sunday morning was simply not enough time for me to work at the good and be constructively creative in response to our social divisions.
What am I really hungry for? What of the “kin-dom” of God do I have a taste for? What of my appetite for the deep? The answers to these questions were still stirring within me and would simply need more time.
Worse still was the realization that I could easily walk away from a Sunday morning worship service unimpeded because very few of the words had ensnared me. Then, here comes Thurman who won’t let me get away from my confession of faith so easily.
“I must find something that gives some radical test for all that is highest and best in me. This radical test must be as inclusive as possible, that one part of me shall not be betrayed by some other part of me,” he writes. “Otherwise, I may find myself involved in a series of commitments which tend to neutralize one another, thus rendering my life ineffective. This I must watch.”
Don’t look at the church bulletin and expect your soul to be satisfied by its offerings. Instead, acknowledge that your soul’s vision is bigger than your eyes and that you’re still hungry after the Sunday morning worship service.