Worship, Ministry, & Narcissism

Following is an approximate transcription of vocal ministry I offered at Homewood Meeting on 2/4/2018. This morning, a Zen saying came to me: “The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection onto the water, nor does the water intend to receive it.”

By association, I was led to recall the classical myth of Narcissus. And by an obvious further association, I thought of myself and my experience of worship and vocal ministry.

I join with you for worship on First Day as if, inwardly, on the first day of creation, waiting for the Spirit to breathe upon the roiling waters within, to still them and instill its life in them. I expect to look then into the serene, pure water in order to experience something of the divine life in the depths.

But what may happen — what has happened — is something different. As the water is stilled, my gaze is seized by my own reflection on the surface. Because of my expectation, I feel that I am looking into the depths: although what I am experiencing is only a superficial reflection of my own face, I perceive it as the face of God, the reflection of the divine within. I center myself in that apparent epiphany and am pleased to abide there.

In truth, this experience of worship is but a dehiscence, an opening or reopening, of my everyday unconscious narcissism, to which it gives specious spiritual validation. Only an intervention from the outside can rescue me from such delusion and the despair, such as Narcissus knew, that it may ultimately entail.

During our meetings for worship, intervention generally takes the form of vocal ministry. The same Spirit that stilled the water moves a wise Friend to rise and heave a rock into it. The movement and noise distract me, the waves disrupt my communion, and, as the ripples attenuate, I wait impatiently for my divine image to restabilize. But during that brief period when my gaze is not yet fixed, a gleam of light from the movement of life in the depths may catch my eye, shifting my focus. Then, as the water becomes perfectly still once more, I am looking through the reflection of self to the life of the Spirit below.

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