The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 24: Divine Worship

Notre-Dame de de la Daurade - Chapelle des anges adorateurs

Chapel of the worship angels, Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Daurade in Toulouse. From Wikimedia Commons

The process of offering is Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman. Brahman offers the sacrifice in the fire of Brahman. Brahman is obtained by those who see Brahman in every action. (BG, 4: 24)

Krishna has been telling Arjuna that one can reach God [Brahman] by several paths. He has been explaining two paths, contemplation and action, though neither are as unlike each other as we often suppose. He will go on to say there are many sacrifices, besides material sacrifice, that we can offer in true worship.

Here we need to pause again. I’ve been using the word “God” rather loosely. I am fond of saying, “The word ‘God’ is a placeholder.” God is a role, not a name. When pushed to tell God’s name to Moses, God simply says, “I AM,” and one of the first commandments given to God’s chosen people is to rarely use God’s name! God resists being defined and hemmed in.

In the Hebrew Bible, God is very much a personal character—speaking to people, making promises, getting angry, changing God’s mind. In Greek philosophy, all this activity seems a bit barbaric. For the Greeks, God is the unmoved mover, unchanging and untouched by human concerns. Christianity holds these two perspectives in tension: God is both active in history, whose mercies are “new every day,” but simultaneously the creator of time and “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” God won’t be restricted by time and space, nor boxed out of it!

Hinduism explores the same tension. Brahman can mean both the uncreated Ultimate Reality, and the “world-ground” [Feuerstein], the foundation of the universe. Theologian Paul Tillich called God “Being Itself” who incorporates both being and non-being, who is both changeless and ceaselessly changing. Afrofuturist author Octavia Butler wrote, “All that you touch You Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.”

What Krishna describes above is an archetype: Brahman is the ritual, the sacrifice, the one offering, and the fire itself. The creation of the universe itself is a ritual offering of God to God. Like a fractal, this action is repeated by all the Creator’s creatures: A monk sitting alone in meditation is sacrificing her time and attention. The prince (like Arjuna) charging into an epic battle against overwhelming oppressive forces is making a sacrifice. The student sitting at the feet of a master is making a sacrifice. The person giving alms to a beggar is making a sacrifice. All replicate the sacrificial action of God.

Christians refer to Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The whole world exists for the sake of this one historical event, an expression of God’s self-sacrificial love. We also often say that when we serve others, “we are being the hands and feet of Christ.” Yet Christ also claims the place of those being served, the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). When we take part in such simple acts of love, we are participating in God’s own action, returning self-sacrificial love to its Source.

God Who Will Not Be Constrained, may my life and vocation reflect your self-sacrificial, creating, redeeming love; may all our actions and lives be worship.

1 thought on “The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 24: Divine Worship

  1. Pingback: The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 28: Service and Non-Attachment | Dave Barnhart

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