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I am in England this week, and this morning my husband and I attended church services at a beautiful abbey in the Cotswolds which was built in the 12th century.  It was high church, with lots of incense and fancy robes.  The choir and the organist were top notch, and the entire service was conducted flawlessly.

Surprisingly, all that pomp and circumstance did nothing for me.  The service was interesting to me on an intellectual level, but that was all.  By contrast, my husband loved the service.  He said the atmosphere and liturgy truly made him feel the presence of God.

Where do I feel the presence of God?  At my local Methodist church every Sunday morning.  It is a simple church that was built in the 1800s.  The music is good, but certainly not professional.  We sing traditional hymns and have a basic order of service.  And I love it.  Very often on a Sunday morning, my eyes will well up with tears because I feel so grateful to be worshiping in that church.

Which leads me to this question:  Is there a right way to worship God?  Is there a right church?  Is there a right religion?  I would argue that there isn’t.  How each of us is able to commune with the divine is a deeply personal matter.

For some of us, our most comfortable way to worship may be influenced by our upbringing.  I grew up in the Methodist church, and I had very positive experiences there.  As a result, I feel very comfortable worshiping with the Methodist liturgy and hymns.  They speak to me in a way that the liturgies and hymns of other churches do not.

But if someone has grown up as a Muslim or a Jew, the mosque or temple is likely the place that best puts them in touch with the divine.  That is where they have had their most positive religious experiences.

That is because, notwithstanding theologians and religious scholars, religion is a spiritual and emotional practice.  The intellectual piece is ever so small.

For example, the Bible is an amazing book.  I can study it in the same way that I can study great work of literature, from “Moby Dick” to “War and Peace.”  I can analyze its historical context, symbolism and imagery.  But that is an intellectual exercise.  It is not a spiritual or religious practice.

A spiritual practice is one in which we attempt to connect with the divine.  And for each of us, the way that we are able to connect is very different.  Some of us may need to call the divine “God.”  Others may need to use the term “Allah” or “Yahweh.”  Some of us may need to worship in a church.  For others, the most comfortable place to worship may be in a mosque or temple.

The way in which each of us is able to connect with the divine is deeply personal.  That is why my husband and I could attend the same church service, and he could feel the presence of God, and I could feel nothing.

As a result, we have to let go of this idea that there is one right way to worship God.  There isn’t, and the idea that one religion is right and all the rest are wrong has caused a great deal of pain and suffering throughout history.  In fact, this attitude continues to create strife in our world today.

Our focus shouldn’t be on making everyone practice the “right” religion.  Rather, it should be on ensuring that every person has the ability to worship God in the way that is most effective for them.  Only then can we create a world in which the love of God is impacting every individual.

Where does that begin?  Well, it begins with respecting other people’s choices as to how they worship.  For example, I am a traditionalist when it comes to how I worship.  I want to sing traditional hymns, listen to an organ and hear classical music.  A church service with electric guitars, drum sets and sing-a-long screens typically gets an eye roll from me.

But I need to change my attitude.  If a more modern service appeals to others, I shouldn’t be judgmental.  I need to support the ways in which others best commune with the divine.

Likewise, many people take issue with Muslim women who wear a head scarf or hijab.  But if a woman feels that she is wearing it in obedience to God, who are any of us to judge?  The headscarf is simply her way of publicly showing that following God comes first in her life.

Ultimately, this isn’t an issue of religious tolerance.  It isn’t enough for us to tolerate other people’s religions.  Instead it is a matter of desiring that all people have a relationship with God.  And we should want a world in which all people can worship in the way that brings them closer to God.

This week, search your heart.  Do you want to be right?  Do you want to tell everyone that you practice the right religion?  Or do you truly want all people to be able to experience the love of God.  If we are seeking to create a kinder, gentler and more peaceful world, then being right really is not the point.

(Photo Courtesy of Pexels)

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