Read John 14.
Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14:21)
I hate zoom worship. It doesn’t engage me. It tires me out. I find my mind wandering. When we sing a song I’m thinking, verse 2, hopefully this is the last one? Verse 3? OK, verse 4 must be the last one, hardly any songs have more than 4 verses. Verse 5!?!
Or I used to hate zoom worship. But then I figured out what the problem was for me: it wasn’t engaging my will. When there are people all around you worshiping, it’s easy to join in. But when you don’t really see them or hear them, there is less of this spirit flowing from person to person.
Did you ever notice that there is a big difference in meditating on a psalm and on, say, a complicated passage from one of Paul’s letters? In the latter, your mind is engaged, trying to figure out what in the world Paul was trying to say. And if you figure it out, generally it’s very deep.
In the psalm, it’s like “Praise the Lord. Praise Him in his sanctuary.” You’ve heard it before hundreds of times. There is nothing to engage the mind. The mind complains of its boredom. To get something out of the psalm, you have to engage the will. You can’t just say “praise the Lord”; you have to, you know, praise the Lord.
The life of prayer starts with meditation. You think about the life of Jesus. You read a good book. You ponder a passage of scripture. Hopefully you find it engaging enough to move your will, to increase your love, but it may take a lot of time and effort in the beginning.
There was a time long ago when it seems to me that my prayer life changed in character. It had been a process of forming words in the mind, long, carefully crafted sentences explaining things to God, asking for what I think I need, maybe thanking God for the beauty of nature or his providential care. For some reason, it most frequently concerned bodily illness.
Then it sank. It descended from the head to the heart. Sentences became shorter. Words became fewer. Desires became stronger. Sometimes it became just a word—Lord! Save!—or no words at all.
I confess: voluntation is not a word. I made it up. But I think it ought to be. Think of it as being like meditation, but with the will rather than reason. Allowing your heart to be moved. Chewing on something in love. Exercising your will. Worshiping in spirit as well as in truth. Looking and loving.
I find zoom worship to be engaging again as I voluntate on the words of the liturgy or sermon or song. I pray the words as I think about what they mean. It is in this love that worship is engaging and satisfying and edifying and joyful. It is in this love that God is apprehended.
The author of The Cloud of Unknowing says in various ways that God is known not through reason but through love. Here is one of the more expansive ones:
Now all rational creatures, angels and [people] alike, have in them, each one individually, one chief working power, which is called a knowing power, and another chief working power called a loving power; and of these two powers, God, who is the maker of them, is incomprehensible to the first, the knowing power. But to the second, which is the loving power, he is entirely comprehensible to each one individually; in so much that one loving soul of itself, because of love, would be able to comprehend him who is entirely sufficient, and much more so, without limit, to fill all the souls of [people] and angels that could ever exist. This is the everlastingly wonderful miracle of love, which shall never have an end. For he shall ever work it, and never cease to do so. Let [them] understand it who can do so by grace; for the experience of this is endless happiness, and its contrary is endless suffering.*
The miracle of love: that through it we can comprehend the incomprehensible, contain the infinite, participate in divinity.
Jesus himself puts it more succinctly: “those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21)
Or again, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Every day, pray for more love, that Jesus may reveal himself to you.
*The Cloud of Unknowing, Paulist Press, 1981, chapter III, p. 123.