We Become What We Worship

We Become What We Worship

We become what we worship. That is to say, we emulate—or become like—the people (and things) we most admire. To understand this concept, we have to understand the origins of the word worship.

The word worship comes from the Old English worðscip or wurðscip —or worthship—meaning “condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown.”

What Does It Mean to Worship?

To worship something is to see worth in a person or object. But there is a reciprocal nature to worship. More than anything, people yearn to be respected and valued, to be seen as someone of worth. If we are looking at a person as someone of worth, we will invariably try to emulate that person as much as possible.

For example, if we see business leaders as individuals worthy of dignity, glory, distinction, honor, and renown, then we will undoubtedly try to become worthy ourselves by emulating the qualities and characteristics of those business leaders.

Or if we “worship” a particular form of art, we will seek opportunities to view, support, and participate in that form of art and in so doing, that art will shape us and we will become like it.

The Great Stone Face

Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrated this principle in a powerful, symbolic short story called The Great Stone Face. The story tells of a young man named Ernest who grows up in a small, rural town. On a mountain near the town, formed out of a cluster of rock, was the likeness of a giant man, a Great Stone Face.

For countless centuries, this Great Stone Face had overlooked the valley like a benevolent guardian. Everyone looked up to this Great Stone Face. Its “expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart.”

We Become What We Worship
The Great Stone Face in New Hampshire

Local legend claimed that one day, the Great Stone Face would visit the people in the form of a man. When he appeared, the townsfolk would recognize him as “the greatest and noblest personage of his time.”

Young Ernest longed to meet this noble personage and eagerly anticipated his arrival. While waiting for this personage to appear, Ernest spends much of his time pondering about and learning from the Great Stone Face. Studying its greatness, Ernest is filled with wisdom and sympathies beyond that of any of his peers.

In time, Ernest became a preacher and encountered several individuals who were rumored to have the likeness of the Great Stone Face: a merchant, a general, a politician, and poet. Each of them have flaws in their nature that puts them at odds with the perceived character of Great Stone Face. Ernest begins to doubt that he will ever see the Great Stone Face personified.

We Become What We Worship

Many years pass and Ernest is asked to deliver one of his sermons at the base of the Great Stone Face. What followed is a beautiful testament to the fact that we become what we worship and admire:

Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this precious draught…At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with benevolence, that [the crowd], by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted,”Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!”

If you want to become more than you are, consider what you worship. That is, consider what it is to which you give your time, talents, and devotion. If you wish to be more than you are, look to God—the Great Stone Face in all our lives—and emulate His goodness.  

Starstuff Pondering Stars

On January 28, 1986, the NASA space shuttle, Challenger, launched toward the heavens. Its mission was particularly significant to the press because one of its crew members was Christa McAuliffe. Mrs. McAuliffe was a schoolteacher who was chosen from among 11,000 applicants to take part in this exciting mission to space.

At the time of the launch, thousands of teachers and students were watching the event—excitedly cheering for one of their own. Christa’s parents watched the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. 73 seconds into its flight, the Challenger unexpectedly broke apart—killing all seven of its crew members.

To Touch the Face of God

Following this tragedy, President Reagan delivered a speech from the Oval Office of the White House. In his address, he said this:

I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

He concluded his remarks with a quote by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., saying that the crew “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

The breakup of the Challenger.
The breakup of the Challenger.

Starstuff Pondering Stars

I was born on January 29, 1986, the day after the Challenger disaster.

When I was quite young, I remember seeing a picture of the explosion and asking my mother about it. She pointed to the smoke and said that it was “star smoke,” and that people “came from the stars.” She smiled at me and said that I “came from the stars the very next day.”

That had a profound effect on me. For years, I firmly believed that I came down from that “star smoke,” and that I—and everyone else—literally came from the stars.

But it’s actually true.

In reference to our bodies, Carl Sagan wrote that: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

On another occasion, Sagan said that we are “starstuff pondering stars.”

But I believe there’s more to it than that. I believe there is something eternal about our nature—about our spirits. Each of us is a divine, immortal child of God. That truth is sometimes spoken casually, but it is deeply profound.

The light, the potential, and immortality within us is far brighter than the moon or even the stars. As author Neal A. Maxwell once said: “You have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals . . . “

And that thought gives me immense hope. It helps me see light in the midst of terrible darkness or disasters. It is my hope to be more like my mother, to point at smoke and wreckage and see starstuff—to keep my eyes on heaven and, no matter what happens, “touch the face of God.”