Sunday, November 12, 2017

worship - ESL vocabulary - with paintings!


Today is Sunday, and that means that for many Christians in the world, today is a day of worship. But “to worship” often has other meanings aside from “to honor (a) God.” The OED gives two definitions for worship, one being more religious and one being less religious:

(more religious definition)
  • To honour or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing;
  • to regard or approach with religious veneration.
(Note that the OED, being English, uses the English, not the American spelling, of “honor.”) 

(less religious definition)
  • To revere as a being or power regarded as supernatural or divine;
  • to regard with extreme respect, affection, or devotion;
  • to adore.
So the more religious definition envisions people worshipping as people treating a supernatural power with veneration (great respect). But then there are, as there are so often, a range of strengths, if you will, of worship. Look at the second definition, which provides three differing levels of honor: First, the treatment of a being or power as a divine thing; then, more general and weak, to treat with extreme respect; then, simply, “to adore.”

(Trinity Church in the middle of  Boston, Massachusetts—a house of worship.)

What about a “house of worship”? The Free Dictionary tells us that this is anyplace that “congregations gather for prayer,” but this seems beside the point, as the term is “house of worship,” not “house of prayer.” And to pray is very different from to worship. Are Jewish synagogues houses of worship? What about Muslim mosques? Wikipedia says yes: “Temples, churches, synagogues and mosques are examples of structures created for worship.” But my experience tells me that the phrase “house of worship” is usually reserved, in America, for Christian churches.

This fabulous 1921 oil painting by Charles Demuth, the American Precisionist, is called “Incense of a New Church.” You will note that it is clouds of industrial steam—although perhaps religiously stylized—that perfume the church building. And what is the church building? It is not a church at all, but instead an industrial cityscape. Demuth (and his pal, another Charles, Charles Sheeler) were American painters who portrayed the beauty they saw in industrial landscapes and factories. The United States in the 20’s was undergoing a rapid transformation to an industrialized society. Things were being built, things were being automated, people were at work, and money was being made. Demuth is saying, with his beautiful clouds of steam, here, that industrialization had become the spirituality of the era. Were industrialization, mechanization, and automation becoming the new objects of worship for American society?

And what do we worship now? Certainly, lovers have always worshipped each other. Look at this painting, by the Austrian Gustav Klimt, of only thirteen years prior, entitled “The Kiss”:

(This painting is located at The Klimt Museum.)

Are these two lovers, engaged in a kiss so deep their robes even seem to intertwine and come to have the same pattern, indeed worshipping each other? Yes and no. The man is taller than the woman, and bends her head back almost uncomfortably; is the kiss something he is inflicting on her? No. If we look more closely, we see that the worship is reciprocal. His hand is cradling her cheek, but her hand lies on top of his worshipping hand, as if to say, “Yes, now.” And her body is pressed into his so tight it’s as if she wants all distance between them to disappear.

So—whom, or what, do you worship? Whom do you worship by yourself, alone? And whom or what do your worship along with your families and communities? Whatever the case, be advised: Worship isn’t just for deities.

The English Avocado

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