Maurice A. Creasey

Source: Report of the Fourth World Conference of Friends. Birmingham, England: Friends World Committee for Consultation, 1968. This is copyrighted material and is reprinted with the permission of Friends World Committee for Consultation.

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I want to try to answer the question What are we doing when we worship? Is it a reasonable thing to do? Where do we place it on the map of our total experience? And my answer to this question would have to begin by asking us to remember that all our experience, all that we know, involves a relationship between ourselves and an environment. There is, first, the environment of things; that that we can control, use, manipulate and exploit. But them over and above that, there is the environment of person, whom we dare not use, manipulate, exploit. But is that all? I believe not. I believe we know that in so far as we rightly relate ourselves to these two environments, things and persons, it is given to use to recognize another environment behind, beneath, beyond and withing them, and this environment I would speak of as Presence. It is not so much an environment that we know as an environment is which we are known.

It is our faith that all men have the capacity to recognise and respond to this Presence. This I believe to be at any rate part of what we mean when we speak of "that of God in every man." But men differ, according to the living, creative symbols through which they recognise and make respond to that Presence, and I must affirm with, I am sure, the vast majority of you, that for me and for you that symbol is Jesus, I cannot know or respond that that Presence in any way that deeply reaches me or my fellow men apart from what I have learnt of the Presence through him.

But having said all that, we are immediately conscious of being confronted by two enormous, terrifying question marks. Can we, on our map, find any place at all for this Presence in view of the stupendous, unimaginable complexity and impersonality of the universe as we are beginning to know it? In face of this, can we even still speak of Presence? The other is raised by the crushing burden of the world's suffering, suffering such that we dare no longer pray, "Lay on us the burden of the world's suffering."

But let us not too hastily assume that Presence, and worship as the only possible response to it, are ruled out by these two questions. Is there not another side to this? To many people today, perhaps very largely through the vision of Teilhard de Chardin, it has been given to see that the human race occupies within this vast unimaginable complexity of the universe a point which is crucial. The whole future of this unfolding creative process waits upon our discernment and co-operation. We do not have to be religious in any convention sense to know that we either live together or die together. And therefore, surely for us, worship becomes the most practical and relevant activity of our lives for it is the moment when we are drawn together into the vision of the glorious purpose of God to reconcile all things to himself.

Again, is it not true that it is precisely the intolerable burden of the world's suffering that is driving us all to a belated recognition that we are in simple truth "members one of another," so that "if one suffers all suffer"? In doing this, it is also driving us all to learn, not as mere theological doctrine but as the basic truth of life, the lesson of the Cross, the lesson that it is only by voluntary identification with others in their lostness that healing can be wrought.

Is it not, then, clear that the important question are not "Do we worship in this manner or in that?" but rather "Do we know what it is to worship at all? Are there moments when we deliberately come together to seek to be open, to be tendered, to be strengthened, healed, restored, forgiven?

It is our faith, surely, that, even yet, God has the whole world in his hands. We have pierced those hands. And, God forgive us, we still pierce them. But it is no less our faith that those hands will never go their hold.

Now all I have been trying to say is said fare more memorably in words which I now want to rad from two well known Biblical passages. The first is from Psalm 139, verses 1-12, 23-24. This is what Presences means. The second passage is from Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 18-19, 22-23, 26-28, 38-39. (N.E.B.)

   O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

   Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou

understandeth my thought afar off.

   Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art
acquainted with all my ways.

   For there is not a word in my tongue, but/i> lo, O Lord, thou

knowest it altogether.

   Thou hast best me behind and before, and laid thine hand

upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot

attain unto it.

    Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee

from thy presence?

   If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed

in hell, behold, thou art there.

If I take the wings of morning, and dwell in the uttermost

parts of the sea;

   Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall

hold me.

   If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night

shall be light around me.

   Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night

shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike

to thee.

   Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know

my thoughts:

   And see if there be any wicked way in men, and lead me in the

way everlasting.

*     *     *

For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendour as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us. For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God's sons to be revealed.

Up to the present, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth. Not only so, but even we, to whom the Spirit is given as first fruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly while we wait for God to make us his sons and set our whole body free.

In the same way the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans the Spirit himself is pleading for us. And God who searches our inmost being know what the Spirit means, because he pleads for God's own people in God's own way. And in everything, as we know, he co-operates for good with those who love god and are called according to his purpose.

For I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or in depths - nothing in all creation that can separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.