Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spectator Versus Participant

Not only am I an Olympics junkie, I'm also a March Madness aficionado. For the past three weeks I've been watching various NCAA basketball playoff games. Although I have several Duke alumni friends, I was rooting for the underdog Butler last night. What an exciting game! Butler had two chances to win in the closing seconds, only to have their shots rim out.

Watching sports can be exciting. Yet, the thrill is vicarious. There's nothing wrong with this one-off kind of excitement, but it can't compare to participating in a sport. When you're in the midst of a contest, the excitement is more direct and deeply experienced. Obviously, only a few can compete at the highest level of a sport. Yet, participation trumps skill.

The same is true of a spiritual life. While we can read about, and admire, spiritual greats like Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu or Thomas Merton, reading falls short of experiencing a personal spiritual connection with God. Like sports greats, spiritual greats can offer us examples to aspire to, but to truly connect with the sacred dimension we must be participants in a spiritual life rather than spectators.

Kierkegaard viewed communal worship in this way. He said that when we sit in a pew, we view ourselves as spectators watching the drama unfold on the "stage." However, he said that we were really actors in the drama of worship and God was the spectator. Understanding worship in this way, he thought, would transform how we go about doing it. To become a participant makes all the difference.

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