A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I turned on the car radio and scanned for a station when a sentence from Yeshayah (40:12) caught my ear – as JPS renders it, "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?"
The speaker, a minister I assume, charged his audience: Gd is so great that He can hold the mountains in His hand! We can't even lift a heavy rock, and He can pick up all of the mountains and put them on a scale! How amazing He is! How mighty He is! We should all worship Him! How can we do anything but worship Him?!
I was left absolutely cold, and I wondered how anyone living in North America today could be left anything but cold by this call. Because Gd is big and strong, therefore we should worship Him?
First, the logic itself is poor. By this argument, should I also worship some person who is stronger than me? What about a person with a bigger gun than me? True, Judaism's classic approach is to be wowed by Divine might. We praise Gd for His might. But we don't use it as a reason for worship (I think, although I am not certain).
But beyond the logical argument, I see a cultural problem which might be endemic to North America but which poses a challenge to all Gd-centered religion: The whole idea of Worship is passe. Unmitigated devotion and respect and awe, dedicating myself to the service of another, is weird and out of place in our society. Even as our religious identity is informed by Psalms and framed by prayer, our cultural identity finds Psalms curious and prayer uncomfortable. Even were we to accept the minister's "Might makes right" philosophy, we could not easily go from "Right" to "Serve the One who is Right".
What happens when people read Psalm 150 in translation: "Praise Him with the shofar blast, Praise Him with the lyre and the harp, Praise Him with drum and dance, Praise Him with…"? I wonder how many people, particularly those unfamiliar with the synagogue and new to Jewish prayer, have trouble relating to those sentences.
To me, this discomfort is a product of our individualistic culture. Our cultural icons of the past 60-70 years have made much of their rebellious streaks; would James Dean worship? Elvis? How about Brando? Wayne? Bronson? De Niro? Pacino? Eastwood? Stallone? Clooney? Crowe? Jackman? 1940's Captain America would worship - but modern Batman? Never. [For some reason, I could imagine some of the parallel females being worshipful; the tough-guy character is not always seen in them. And, I'm not as familiar with them.]
Many of us find our way to Worship despite this problem, but I sense it is more an exercise of free will and choice than a sense of obligation, along the lines of gratitude and recognition of Goodness. I'm not entirely convinced this is ideal, though.
What do you think? Am I off-base? What is the driver for your worship?