Chaos, Worship and Politics

Today is a day of worship for many. Today is a day of political and societal chaos for many. What is the connection between the two statements? The painting from El Greco can help us answer this question. The painting hangs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is called the Vision of Saint John. In it, we see the oppressed souls of those who have been waiting on the justice of God to shine through. The painting captures a mixed moment of agony, longing and satisfaction, as those who are in it look up to receive their white robes as rewards for their faithfulness to the truth in a faithless world.

The interesting thing is that the painting was “restored” in 1880 by its owner who cut off the top 175 cm of the painting which depicted the glorious revelation of the victorious Christ. What is left is that the individuals look up from their chaos to a blank heaven. This is, in many ways a picture of the dazed culture in which we live.

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Eating of the Tree of Life

Western people have for decades had a major problem with the whole notion of a Creator who demands praise and thanksgiving from his creatures. “What kind of God is that? Is he so insecure that he is in need of the praise of his own creatures? If he was really independent and above everything why can’t God just let us live on and enjoy our lives?” These questions make a lot of sense in a culture like ours, which sets the rights and freedoms of the individual above all things. And yet I think that they miss the point.

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Worship at the Mall

What do temples and a shopping malls have in common? Much more than we may think. Here is a thought provoking observation by religious studies professor Dr. Ira Zepp:


Some of us are interested in religious studies because we are interested in people. People do religious things; they symbolize and ritualize their lives and desire to be in a community. What piqued my interest in shopping malls initially was their concrete expressions of all three of these religious impulses. Quadrilateral architecture, calendrical rituals, replications of natural settings, and attempts to be people, places, and objects of pilgrimage, all illustrate homo religiosus. The shopping mall as a ceremonial center, the shopping mall as “more than” a marketplace, is one way contemporary people are meeting their needs for renewal and reconnection, essential ingredients of religious and human life.


When most of us hear the word “worship” we automatically think of ancient rituals, temples, churches or mosques. In reality, the notion of worship goes far deeper than just its outward expression. Professor Zepp shows us here that worship is something that goes to the fabric of the human heart. Worship is fundamentally about meeting the deeper needs of the human heart. As far as we can see throughout history, we see humanity doing much more than surviving. We see humanity hoping, seeking and believing in something.


Just look around at the culture around you. Billboards, radio and TV ads, clubs, societies and educational institutions all contain elements of the worshiping human heart within their structures. Everywhere you look, you will find people seeking the fulfillment of their deeper needs of meaning, belonging and hope. Anywhere you turn you see people trying to find themselves in the things they do. Worship is woven into the subconscious habits and drives of our everyday routines. No matter what we do we are always seeking some sort of fulfillment or fullness.


As we learn to see this, the two simple questions that we ask ourselves and those around us are, “What do I worship?” and “Why?”. As we learn to consciously look at our subconscious habits and tendencies we start to get a more realistic grip on our humanity and think more clearly on the reasons that stand behind it.


Ira Zepp, The New Religious Image of Urban America: The Shopping Mall as Ceremonial Center (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1997), 150. as quoted in


Smith, James K. A. (2016-03-22). You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Kindle Locations 714-716). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.