Title: Worship: Adding Depth to Your Devotion
Author: Eric D. Huntsman
Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 180
Reviewed by Elizabeth W. Roach for the Association for Mormon Letters
Let’s play a word association game. I will give you a word and you immediately think of a picture. Ready? “Iceberg.” What did you see? Did you think of something that looked like an icy white mountain floating in the ocean? The cover illustration of Eric D. Huntsman’s latest book, “Worship,” features an iceberg floating in the ocean, that looks like an icy white mountain, probably very similar to your image.
An iceberg is a suitable simile for worship as well. If we play another round of our game and I said to instantly think of a picture showing “worship,” our images might be very similar to each others’: perhaps someone in prayer, learning scripture, a religious service in a sacred place, a guide teaching a follower, a tradition associated with a certain time of year, or helping someone in need.
Worship means similar things to many people, even from varying backgrounds. This is where Huntsman begins his discussion on what worship is.
Let’s go back to your picture of the iceberg one last time. Did your iceberg stop at the water line? The cover photo iceberg did not. Seeing the entire iceberg above and below water at once is breathtaking. The sheer depth is awe-inspiring, the nuances of shade and form are mesmerizing; the exposed portion of the iceberg, the icy white mountain part, is absolutely minuscule compared to what the total iceberg entails.
For me, seeing an iceberg this way inspires awe and appreciation for this amazing beauty that exists, for the possibilities that I never imagined, and prompts questions about how it was created and how it is maintained.
This is the main point that Huntsman makes about our worship: our traditions, rituals, prayers, all the observable actions, are only the very tip of what is possible as we seek to establish a connection with Deity through worship. He encourages the reader to increase his or her depth of devotion to God, to not be satisfied with merely superficial actions or checking off a list of good deeds. There is more to worship, so much more than previously imagined.
Huntsman has lived and taught among Jewish, Muslim and Christian populations throughout his life and so draws from all these religious traditions to highlight not only how and when people can worship, but why. Through various chapters such as “Prayer,” “Rituals,” “Holy Places,” “Sacred Time,” he outlines how to create and maintain that deeper connection to the Divine.
I found “Worship” to be Huntsman’s most readable book to date. Notably missing from its pages are the incredible fine art prints that illuminated the chapters in Huntsman’s volumes on Easter, Christmas, and Christ’s miracles, but the book retains the hymns, scriptural analysis, and warm personal experiences that have come to define Huntsman’s writing style.
The new format removes this book from the previous stunningly beautiful but almost untouchable category to the soon to be highlighted, annotated in the margins, dog-eared and passed around to family and friends category as readers add their own reflections on worship to the author’s and truly find a synergy that comes by being transformed by God’s power.
I liked the book and I recommend it. I found it very thought provoking; I found myself increasingly introspective about what I thought my worship habits were and could become. The stories and examples from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions were very interesting and reinforced my own worship experiences. They helped me come to understand who God is and what I can do to deepen my devotional practices. Worship turns out to be a heart thing, after all is said and done.
Each chapter has many highlights, but I keep reflecting on the ideas shared in “Holy Places” and “Sacred Time”. Both discuss what can happen as we make space in our lives for sacred experiences. In “Holy Places,” the transforming power of sanctuaries and temples on individuals is discussed as well as transforming our own homes into sanctuaries for God’s Spirit.
Our homes are places that we often have opportunities to seek Divine guidance and witness His grace. In “Sacred Time,” Huntsman discusses the transforming power of giving regular time in our lives to seek God’s presence as well as for religious holiday observances.
To be perfectly frank about my reaction to “Worship,” I found that I kept flipping to the back cover while reading the book. Several times I found myself staring at the back cover until I realized I looking for the second half of the book. I kept thinking there was a piece of the puzzle missing. As I read the chapters on prayer, rituals, God’s word, and sacred music, I kept wondering if it were possible to worship in complete isolation or is part of the act of worship to connect with others and thereby connect to God with and through them? Is that connection through others, whether it is through prayer, song, service, rituals, one way we can bring ourselves closer to God?
We can’t return to God by ourselves or on our own. We need others with us to complete worship. We need them for what they provide to us: their testimonies, music, their faithful and sincere prayers, their writings we revere as scripture, and the ordinances they perform for our benefit.
Likewise, we act as conduits of grace to others as we pray, testify, teach, serve, and sing in our turn. Parents teaching their children faithful practices, who in their turn teach others, is part of an ongoing pattern through the generations of connecting to God and connecting to each other. The author mentions the role of his parents, notably his mother, who taught him that worship could transform his life.
There is more to be explored here. Just like that magnificent image of the iceberg on the cover, what we understand about worship is only a small fraction of what is available for us to experience if we can just let go of the superficial aspects and dive a little deeper in our devotional time as we seek a closer connection to God.