Worship with Gladness (Joyce Ann Zimmerman) -- A Review

WORSHIP WITH GLADNESS: Understanding Worship from the Heart (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW))By Joyce Ann Zimmerman.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.  Xvii + 163 pages.

                What is worship? That is a difficult question to answer, but it’s a question that those of us involved in worship planning, especially clergy, regularly wrestle with.  The way we approach the question often is determined by the concerns of the hour.  When we deal with the question it is tempting to either through up our hands at say the worship has something to do with spirit (John 4:24) or we jump and focus on the nuts and bolts and the mechanics.

                One who has had to deal with such questions is Joyce Ann Zimmerman, a Roman Catholic theologian and director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, Ohio.    Besides her work with this Catholic agency, she has a long standing relationship with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and its Vital Worship grants provided to congregations.  Applicants in this program had been asked to define "authentic worship," as part of the process.  Reflecting on the answers given to that question, she noticed that one scripture text was referred to quite regularly was John 4:24.  The assumption being that authentic worship must be spiritual, but that only gets you so far.  Once the word “authentic” was dropped, the occurrences of references to John 4 also dropped, and the answers became more varied.  From then on responses included references to thanksgiving, praise, and glory.  Indeed, respondents lifted up God’s presence and encounters of God as being key elements of worship. 

Worship with Gladness is a primer on worship.  It is not focused as much on definition or nuts and bolts, but rather it serves to prod readers to ponder the meanings and practices of worship.  The first chapter is rooted in the work she has done with the grants program, reflecting there on the data collected as part of the effort.  The chapter carries the title “Worship:  Withering or Greening?”  This title is a reflection of many of the concerns of the age – that the traditions of Christian worship have begun to diminish in importance, even as there are evidences of renewed life in worshiping communities.  In the course of the chapter she notes some of the elements from profession to confession, but not in a way that excludes elements.  One key point in the opening chapter is the distinction made between worship and liturgy.  Liturgy is more formal and defined.  It occurs in community.  Worship is a much broader term that includes liturgy but is not limited to it.  Worship can take place in a faith community, but it can also happen (should happen) outside the doors of the church building.  It’s not an either/or, but a both/and issue. 

Having laid down the foundational questions and shared the data from her involvement with the grants program, she moves on to a different sort of data – the biblical story.  In chapter two she asks the question of how worship is understood and expressed in the biblical story.   She focuses on the Psalms, and Revelation.  What is intriguing is the outline of worship that occurs in the Psalms of Lamentation, which typically begin with the lament/complaint, but moves on to declarations of trust.  She discerns six elements in all – invocation, complaint, plea for help, remembering God’s deeds, praise of God and thanksgiving, and resolve to be faithful.  These are paralleled in worship with the Greeting/opening prayer, confession, intercession, proclamation of God’s word, litany of praise/Great Thanksgiving, dismissal to live as disciples. 

In the third chapter, she turns from the biblical story to her own Catholic resources, especially the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy that emerged out of Vatican II. Protestants might wonder the value these resources, but it is good to remember that Vatican II launched liturgical renewal not only the Catholic Church but in Protestant ones as well. In this section we look at Baptismal identity, the Eucharist, and the call to "full, conscious, and active participation. She makes the claim that “when worship renewal happens in a congregation, it breathes new life, new enthusiasm, and new meaning into the worship experience” (p. 98).  In other words, attending to worship is important to the life and vitality of the Christian community.  

The fourth and final chapter of the book moves us from the worshiping event into the world.  Having wrestled with the meaning of worship and the resources for renewal, it is important to remember that the reach of worship must extend beyond what happens for an hour on Sunday or in a prayer session.  It must make a difference in our lives. That is, there must be a relationship between “being” and “doing,” “identity” and “mission.”     For Protestants who may not know the origins of the word mass, she notes that it stems from the Latin “Missa,” which refers to the dismissal.  The benediction is a dismissal into the world, referring to the fact that worship cannot be contained within the walls of the church.  It is in this context that she speaks to issues of justice and mission. This final chapter is an important one because brings the previous conversations together -- reminding us that worship involves an encounter with God that should transform lives -- or it really isn't true worship. In other words, it's not the style or the accouterments that matter -- it's what happens in the heart.
While Zimmerman does not offer a "definition" of worship, she does offer a description:
Worship is surrendering ourselves before a loving and merciful God whom we encounter any time we open ourselves to the abiding Triune Presence, a surrender and an encounter played out in relationships and circumstances of daily living that reflect our ethical choices and commitments, our concern and care for others (p. 152).
The key elements are surrender, encounter, daily living, and ethical choices.  By surrendering to God, we encounter God and find that worship begins to define daily life, including our ethical commitments.  In other words, authentic worship will express itself in actions.

          Worship with Gladness focuses our attention on the key theological and practical elements of worship.  Zimmerman is intent on moving us from worship, whether liturgical or not, to daily life.  It is not a definitive book on worship covering all aspects of worship -- for that I suggest reading Ruth Duck's Worship for the Whole People of God: Vital Worship for the 21st Century What I believe is important about the book is that it has the potential to engender important conversations within congregations.  It could easily sow seeds of renewal.  I believe to that the very fact that it emerged in conversations with a Roman Catholic nun and a Reformed worship institute is telling.  Even when dealing with topics from a Roman Catholic perspective this Protestant found important guidance – again it’s important to remember that the movement for liturgical renewal in the Protestant community has roots in Vatican II and its liturgical reforms. 

           All in all, it's a book I would heartily recommend, especially for worship committees and any group having a conversation about worship and its renewal.  Why?  Because she reminds us that renewal is not first of all about nuts and bolts but divine encounter and expressing that in daily life. 


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