Title: Worship: Adding Depth to Your Devotion
Author: Eric D. Huntsman
Publisher: Deseret Book
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 180 + xii
Reviewed by Jenny Webb for the Association for Mormon Letters
Eric Huntsman’s latest book, Worship: Adding Depth to Your Devotion, provides a thoughtful, devotional look at the various worship practices common within the LDS faith. Huntsman is clear from the outset that this volume is designed to promote a reflection upon the forms and value of LDS worship while simultaneously placing those forms within a broader religious context (most often through connections found with Judaism, Islam, and other Christian denominations). This comparative perspective allows Huntsman to make the argument that “worship is natural, that all men and women are drawn to seek an encounter with God that can change and improve their lives. The details of their practices may differ from our own, but … [suggest] that we can and should be inspired by their devotion” (132).
Understanding LDS worship within the narrative of global religious traditions and practices is, I think, a useful way to contextualize individual Mormons’ religious experiences and connect Mormonism with a vibrant global religious community. While this connection is not the book’s primary focus, it demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of Mormonism’s faith practices than that traditionally found in devotional books from this publisher, and is to be commended.
The primary focus here, though, is to help Latter-day Saints identify, understand, and consciously reflect upon their worship practices. Huntsman sees worship as an integral component to the process of becoming more like God, something necessary to our returning to live with him (see pp. 2–3). He defines worship as “an actual encounter with God, whose most important purpose is to change *us*” (3). This encounter has a distinctly active component: “worship inspires us and enables us to serve him afterwards” (5). Huntsman is reverently optimistic regarding our capacity to improve our worship, and the tone throughout is one of gentle encouragement. “In most cases, improving and deepening our worship is more about doing better what we already do well. We may simply need to be more deliberate about how we worship, trying harder to keep God as its focus. […] True worship requires intentionality…. Transformative worship requires mindfulness” (133).
The end result of a more thoughtful and focused worship, according to Huntsman, is “action” (134). “[W]orship is an encounter with God that transforms us as worshippers, sanctifying us and empowering us to better serve him and his children” (11–12). This emphasis on improving worship in order to more effectively serve others appears as a variation on a familiar Mormon theme: when you are in the service of your fellow men, you are only in the service of your God (Mosiah 2:17). Here, Huntsman advocates the service of God through worship so that we might ultimately be propelled outwards to an active serving of those around us.
The book is structured around the exploration of six specific forms of worship, each of which receives its own chapter.
Prayer: Communing with God and Feeling His Spirit
Ordinances and Other Rituals: Sacred Acts and Words That Unite Us with God
Holy Places: Points of Contact between Heaven and Earth
Sacred Time: Remembering, Recreating, and Anticipating Meetings with God
Reading, Preaching, and Teaching God’s Word: Discovering God While Feasting upon His Word
Worshipping God through Music: The Song of the Righteous Is a Prayer unto the Lord
Each chapter follows the same essential format: title, subtitle, and scriptural epigraph orient the reader to the topic under consideration; the opening paragraphs explain how this particular form of worship connects people with God and fits with LDS normative practices. Huntsman then provides a more general overview concerning how this practice developed historically, often within a variety of faith communities, all while providing examples from both within and without the LDS faith.
One feature found in every chapter is a variety of personal vignettes, recollections, and meditations. Huntsman draws upon his own personal experiences and memories, such as a story involving one of his children or an experience gained during his travels. These personal reflections occur as distinct breaks—they are set in a different font, and are visually distinct from the more historical and scriptural consideration of the topic. They are also a clever and effective way for Huntsman to provide a means of connecting rather abstract concepts of religious practice with concrete, personal experiences. They break of the pacing of the book, giving readers a chance to pause and enjoy a personal story (and who doesn’t like a good personal story!) before diving back into the more conceptual discussion of the topic at hand.
Overall, Huntsman has created a thoughtful and approachable orientation that connects LDS worship practices to a larger historical and cultural religious heritage of worship. Huntsman writes well, and the volume is both readable and approachable. Although the work is decidedly popular in its tone and orientation, Huntsman’s profession as professor is evident in the accompanying apparatus (endnotes, bibliography, and index). There were a few questions I had regarding minor inconsistencies in formatting, mainly in the notes (e.g., p. 145, n. 13) and the bibliography seemed a bit loose at times (e.g., p. 162, where entries have inconsistent capitalization and issues with subtitles; also, the non-standard entry for Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling surprised me), but these are all truly minor quibbles, especially in a non-academic text, and do not detract from the success of the volume’s primary aim and focus.
It is clear throughout the text that Huntsman sees his work here as devotional in the broad sense: meant to inspire, yes, but also meant to empower. By providing cultural and historical connections to a variety of other religious practices, Huntsman frames the experience of Mormon worship as part of a received heritage and community that exceeds denominational identification. These connections also then serve as a space within which to act: “[e]ach act of worship has the potential to soften, comfort, and change our hearts and then empower us to do something here and now” (136).
I find Huntsman’s gentle insistence upon action heartening; I find his expanded contextualization of the ecumenical space for such action useful. As a non-specialist in religious history, I enjoyed the learning. And as individual, I enjoyed the implication that worship as practice was something that I could improve. Recommended.