Saturday, September 14, 2013

What Wayne's World Taught Me About Divine Worship...

A few years back a family member of mine who is also Catholic once challenged me about all of the emphasis in the Catholic liturgy on the unworthiness of man. She pointed to the prayer that we say right before receiving communion; "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed". Since then the Church has returned the prayer to its more Biblical roots, which places it in the context of the Centurion's recognition of Christ's "dignus" (or elevated status), nevertheless, I must confess at the time her criticism did catch me a little off-guard. In other words, what she was saying was: why all of the emphasis on man being a sinner, and in particular, the excessive focus on his unworthiness? Well, I guess the simple answer can be found right in Scripture, which is to say, perhaps the best approach is to ask the people in Scripture the reason they responded to Jesus in such a manner.

I already mentioned one instance of this "groveling" expedition, but let's look at another. Early in the Gospels Jesus is out preaching to the crowds when he asks permission to borrow Peter's boat (Peter has a small fishing business). He does this because the crowds are closing in on him and he needs a little space to be able to address them. When he's done speaking to the crowds he turns to Peter and the rest of the fishermen and tells them to cast their nets into the deep. They respond with incredulity because they have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. However, in spite of their skepticism, they ultimately choose to honor his request, and subsequently catch so many fish that they can hardly haul them into the boat.

Spontaneously reacting to this miraculous event, Peter immediately falls down before Jesus and declares; "Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man!" (Matthew 5:5). Hearing this for the first time, our initial inclination might be to wonder why he would have such a strange reaction. Indeed, one should not be groveling at such beneficence, but rather expressing pleasure with the results; "Thank you kind sir for your help- would you be so generous as to accompany us on all future fishing expeditions?" Yet therein lies the problem with how we interpret the story, and even more importantly, how we interpret worship. To see this scene only as some sort of miracle for miracle's sake is to miss the whole point, not only of this story, but of the Gospel in general. Likewise, to analyze Peter's reaction as a kind of low level serendipity is equally near-sighted.

Enter Wayne's World. Who better to show us from whence comes this desire to fall prostrate than Wayne and Garth? The scene at the bottom of this post tells you everything you need to know about why Peter reacted the way he did in the presence of Jesus. Now, I have no idea whether or not Wayne and Garth believe in God, but regardless of their beliefs, they do demonstrate orthodox behavior, especially as it relates to divine worship. As a matter of fact, if you asked them the same question that my relative asked me- but applied it to the band Aerosmith, they might look at you like you had two heads. "Why do we fall down in worship before them? Well duh, because they are in the pantheon of 'rock gods' and the appropriate behavior in the presence of something so immeasurably great is not to act like it is nothing, but rather to hide your face from the glory."

Yet as important as it is to bow down before something greater than yourself, there is another reason that Wayne and Garth (as well as Christians) bow down. They bow down out of love and reverence in the same spirit as a man lowers himself in proposing marriage. Familiarity may be great, but when it comes to love, nothing beats the sensation that you have just won the lottery because you can't believe you have been chosen. And so it is that Peter, Wayne, and Garth (the latter two not apostles) receive back stage passes to "come and see" how their heroes (and Lord) spend their time away from the crowds. Incidentally, as each one remains prostrates, so also they are told not to be afraid, to arise and get up, and that in essence they "are worthy" to share in an audience with their respective God/gods.

All of us are made for worship, but not merely to worship something that is- to a terrifying degree- greater than ourselves (though there is that as well), but to recognize that in the truest sense we fall prostrate because we are invited to participate in a love so great and so wonderful that our hearts are compelled to cry out "I am not worthy." Does this diminish us in any way? To the contrary, when it comes to love, it is gratitude, not self-hatred, that makes us declare our unworthiness. Indeed, unworthiness in this sense only amplifies the experience of joy in the presence of God.

The scene ends with an equally Biblical moment, wherein Wayne and Garth receive a high-five from the band, and then look at their hand as if something magical has touched them. Here we are reminded as well of the power and sublimity of the touch of Christ. When they do eventually arrive back stage with the band, one can also see the pattern of the Gospels at play here as well, though one does not assume that any of the prostitutes (or groupies in this case) are encouraged to repent. Even so, in some odd way I suppose they too are motivated, however misguidedly, by the same thing as Wayne, Garth, and Peter.

To stretch this metaphor alarmingly too far (though I still think it fits), the conclusion of this lesson of divine worship and Wayne's World, comes when these metal boys actually join their heroes on stage for a performance. This would seem to me the culmination of Christian worship, the notion that awe and reverence in the Christian sense is not simply a passive thing, but rather a participation in the divine life. Just as in Gospels the apostles eventually take up the ministry of Christ and perform miracles in his name, so in a similar way God invites us up on stage to join him in this dramatic symphony of salvation. All the same, just because we are invited one stage to play with the band, doesn't mean that we do not still consider ourselves, like Wayne and Garth, to be in a magnificent dream, one that seems far too good to be true.                                  

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