Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Holy and the Angel Wash

One thing that bugs me about YRUU is the way we define "Worship." Y'all know I love my YRUU kids and am pretty slow to criticise them, but they do tend to define "Worship" as "hearing how great we are."

It's not.

An angel wash, for example, where one walks with one's eyes closed down a row of people, accepting hugs and kind words about oneself.

Is it pleasant? I don't know. A couple of years ago, somebody I liked a lot took me on a blindfolded walk right next to a busy road. I didn't get hit by a car, but I developed a thing about walking with my eyes closed. I won't do it, so I sat out of the angel wash.

But is it worship? In my opinion, which may not count for much, I recognize, it isn't.

The service of the living tradition is never something I've totally understood. Were it simply a memorial service for the ministers who had died in the last year, that would be a little sad for something in the middle of GA, but at least it could easily be about that which is holy as well.

I just don't see what's worshipful about a graduation ceremony, however staid. And when we make this ceremony about individual achievements rather than being about that which is greater than ourselves, isn't that essentially what we're doing?

Is it possible for worship to focus on an individual? Sure. A service for Martin Luther King day focused on Dr. King and the ways the holy worked through him seems like a good example. But that's a little different from reading the names of a list of people who graduated from seminary.

I don't object to there being a ceremony, I just wonder if a church service is the place for it.



Lilylou said...

Great post, CC. You've got me thinking.

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up as a UU youth, the only time I encountered the word "worship" was in relation to the regular adult Sunday service, which was termed the "worship service." At those services we did pray to God but not a whole lot, and such prayers clearly weren't the point of the gathering. So I formed the opinion that "worship" in the UU context is not a verb but an adverb that describes how a group of people come together intentionally to communally connect with the sacred dimension of life.

In my youth group, we never did anything like this "angel wash." At least, not during the four years of my tenure. We did have wink, fishbowls, and all sorts of other typical activities.

From my perspective as someone who will age out of the young adult category in a few years, the angel wash seems narcissistic and doesn't have much of a sacred dimension. But I think my perspective might've been different if I'd encountered it as a youth. Back then, we were all struggling with painful self-awareness, peer pressure, teenage awkwardness, naive idealism, imperfect family and school situations, and all the other things that seem relatively minor compared to the pressures I face now but were truly almost more than we could handle at that age. In such an environment, affirmation of each other within the turmoil of the teenage years was a major aspect of Youth Group and one of the needs that UUism actively met.

So, from the perspective of the youth, this may indeed be a form of worship. They are coming together as a group, intentionally seeking to bolster the sense of inherent worth and dignity of their peers. This reconnection with one of the fundamental principles of UUism allows the anxious, self-doubting, isolated youth psyche to reach a place from which to open to more widely acknowledged worshipful attitudes and practices.

I wouldn't find an angel wash to be worshipful for myself today in my early 30s. But I can see how my 16-year-old self might have found it worshipful. I also think that my teenage self would've made an easy and clear distinction between degrees of worship. He would've seen the angel wash as legitimately worshipful, but would've seen the Sunday service or a Soulful Sundown as more worshipful and closer to the ideal of worship.

Anonymous said...

I think Jeff W. is onto something. It may well be that for youth, this kind of affirmation is a very useful prelude to worship in that it allows openness to worship that an anxious teen may be too self-absorbed to do alone. I know it's ironic, but when you are very unsure of yourself you are very self-absorbed, and thus, giving more self-confidence can make one less self-absorbed, even if the method of doing so looks a lot like more self-absorption.

Anonymous said...

I just don't see what's worshipful about a graduation ceremony, however staid.

And yet, every seminary graduation is in the context of a worship service--typically with a litany, prayers of invocation, and a sermon. The liturgical roots of commencement ceremonies are quite apparent and are highlighted in seminary graduation ceremonies.

A bit of history and background on commencement ceremonies is located at the American Council on Education, which indicates how "The origins of academic dress date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when universities were taking form. The ordinary dress of the scholar, whether student or teacher, was the dress of a cleric. With few exceptions, the medieval scholar had taken at least minor orders, made certain vows, and perhaps been tonsured."

So IS a graduation service worship? I don't think the question should be IS it, but MAY it be? I would not say that every graduation ceremony IS worship, but it isn't an impermeable barrier. It has been and can still be considered liturgical in the right occasions.

By the way--graduating from ceremony and being fellowshipped (which i nearly typo'd as fellowhipped) is never an individual achievement.

Anonymous said...

The angel wash is not just about whispering affirmations or giving hugs. Traditionally, an angel wash happens at the last con of a year or after a particularly trying conference. It's a tool to celebrate friendship and to wish well to those that you might not see again for 3 months.
I know that after a tough experience at a conference, and the community has healed, an angel wash can be a deep bonding activity.
Which leads me to a point, maybe YRUU worship is not so much about finding spirituality in a divine, but finding spirituality in the community you are a part of.

P.S. As a clarification, it's not always an affirmation. You could say "Remember that time..." or "I'll miss you because..." It's just easier to say to someone, you're wicked awesome! And let it be done.
P.P.S. It is probably a good thing you sat out, because I've heard from adults that it can be uncomfortable and may breach the boundaries of the advisor role.

Anonymous said...

I've participated in an Angel Wash, once, at a Young Adult con in my district. It was very out of character for me to take part, but it was surprisingly wonderful. I have only seen two or three Angel Washes take place in all the cons I've been to; in this district at least they seem to be reserved for special occasions or situations.

Anonymous said...

In a totally unrelated note, your title reminded me of something from my distant past: I had a boyfriend once whose last name was Holy. His college roommates' last names were Angel and Heaven.