I know David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech is old news (5 plus years old news), but I’ve only recently read it. It’s a beautiful speech. DFW’s honesty–he presses himself right up against his words. You can almost hear his heart beat through them, urgent and (still) bright.
I’ll leave you to his speech, if you should choose to read it (please do!), but I want to reference one paragraph there at the end.
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you …Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
The notion of inevitable worship is intrinsic.
David Foster Wallace:
On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story.
I learned it in Sunday School. Humans are meant (made) to worship. Of course, these Sunday sermons were a little more black and white. You can either worship God or, er, the other guy; and that other guy comes in many forms, so don’t be fooled.
There is no such thing as not worshiping.
This is where I want to take off.
The danger is thinking that truth stops.
Let’s consider the word:
If you want to embrace this idea that everyone worships something (be it idea, ideal, person, place, or thing) you have to expand your definition of the word.
Obviously, people don’t build alters, sing hymns, bow, or kneel to their bank accounts. (At least, I don’t think they do)
What if this verb, “To Worship” expresses an action that exists on a scale? And because I like to imagine my scales as circular, let’s do so together:
Yes, I’m suggesting that maybe respect is a form of worship, as is admiration, desire, appreciation, and love.
And suddenly, a rigid and potentially dark truth open up. It flowers into something close to joy. These little acts of worship (admiration, prioritizing, love) can save you, too.
Worship. I like the word. It’s soft and feels holy. It is an act that bestows worthiness. (Worthiness. I like that word, too.) Worship can bestow worthiness in tiny ways, big ways, in inconsequential ways, in ways that can lead to disaster or salvation.
I arrive at the place I started. If I have to worship, if everyone is worshiping, if there is truly no such thing as not worshiping, how joyfully insignificant and small our acts of worship (and bestowing worthiness) can be.
A negative example: A woman denies herself food. This is her small (and most likely unconscious) act of worship of beauty (or control or power or invisibility).
A positive example: My son, Henry, stomps in a puddle. He splashes his feet, spins in a circle, lifts his face up to the sky and laughs. He examines the expanding rings the rain drops make. He touches his small finger to the water’s surface. Is this a small act of worship of God? Of rain? Of the earth? Of play? Of another kind of beauty, altogether? And is my patience with him (we stood out in that wetness for an hour) a small act of worship, too? Was this holy? Who and what was worthy?
These moments save me. Henry was worthy of my time (and soggy shoes). The puddle was worthy of Henry’s joy. My life is filled with worthiness, and may we always worship, may we truly never stop worshiping.