When I hear prayer, I tend to think of the formulaic, special-vocab prattle that I heard so often in religious groups, utterings which express more the flavour of the group than one's own faith. I see hand-holding youth groups with bowed heads who change their language mode in the instant of prayer (like, this is how I talk to you, that is how I talk to God... why the pretense? Why the religious mask?).
When I hear the word praise, I see a mad televangelist hopping around on stage and the token middle-class submissive Christian housewife in her Sunday clothes that I hope I will never become, hollering their "Praise the Lord-ah!" in an overt religious ecstasy with which they seem to want to make public their own religious fervor and virtue.
When I hear the word worship, I think of all the dreadfully bad 70s Christian worship songs with no artistic value whatsoever, which seem to achieve their merit merely by the amount of explicit references to the person of Jesus or God. I see a group of people with raised hands (I always wondered, what is that about? Is it meant to be some sort of religious antenna to God?), a group suddenly showing a universal behaviour, in which any dissidence is immediately (but mind you, only implicitly) regarded as a lack of faith or fervor.
I think a lot of the experiences I have made in that subculture have attached negative associations to many religious expressions for me, and their often formulaic mindless use.
I need to defamiliarise religious expressions, find new expressions (which are often enough regarded as a drift into secularism, universalism or paganism, and boy, do you find yourself in trouble for that!) to express the spiritual experiences I make and at the same time disconnect them from the sociological phenomena of this particular subculture.
This is what I read today, and I love these definitions much more than the ones I was taught years ago. They are wider and encompass a lot more, helping me not to feel like a frickin fundie when I "commit" these religious acts, helping me understand that often I pray, and I praise, and I worship without even knowing or classifying that I do.
Prayer is the occupation of the soul with its needs.
Praise is the occupation of the soul with its blessings.
Worship is the occupation of the soul with God Himself.
–Alfred P. Gibbs
Right, after reading this again, I have to add this, because I think I haven't been entirely fair.
I have to add that even though I criticise a lot of stuff going on in the Christian subculture, I have made many friends there, too... good friends who have supported me and been my family when my real family wasn't around. My ex-boss Sabine and my co-workers at the magazine were/are frickin awesome... my cowtown friends (the civil service lads and the volunteer girls) were the best, and I truly had a great time with them and love them to pieces.I have no problem with expressions of worship and praise which come from the heart and still are following the lines of the subculture... many have grown up with it, and feel most comfortable like this, and all power to them, you know. There is a lot of good happening there, too, and I would never want to offend my friends who feel home and part of that group. Yet I daresay, the good I have experienced has nothing to do with the subculture itself. It is personal. It happens if people love you as a person first, and not as a brother/sister in Christ. I despise duty love. It's not real. It's a facade.
Maybe I felt this intensely because I was an outsider to this group, and never managed to fit in. And I never wanted to. I love God, and I love Jesus, but I didn't want to become another devout clone that acts and speaks the same way as the rest, and I despised that some looked at me like I was blaspheming/not true to my faith/lacked love of God because I didn't dress like them, talk like them, wanted to think for myself, and not stifle and mold my creativity that does nothing but create another set of lame postcards with sunsets and babies and flowerpots on them, accompanied by a frickin bible verse. When I speak of subculture, I speak of an overarching climate that cannot be pinned down... it is the sense of a spirit you feel within certain groups which demands of you to play along by their rules, or else you will not be accepted. It was like being back in high school at times. It made me angry, and it hurt me, that what I encountered was just another variety of the bullshit I have seen in the "evil" secular world, and that there was mindless propaganda that they expected us to swallow bait, hook and sinker, without question. Criticise it, and it is the devil speaking in you. Or they let you get away with it this once, because you are still a "baby Christian". What I despised even more than the elitism was getting patronised.
I always hoped for unconditional love, a piece of heaven, when I entered that group, but it was never there... in many ways, it was worse than the world I had left. Again, the disclaimer needs to be added: my friends were a piece of that heaven.
And I haven't given up on God. I just need to find him on my own terms.