It has taken me two days to think through an understanding of reverence, a listed virtue, and distinguish it from its cousin idolatry. These two words seem to be constantly mixed up, causing undue problems between people. I think that the photo above depicts reverence from my one year old self looking at my grandfather. Of course, I wouldn’t have known that word, but I am clearly giving him deep attention with affection.
In many different parts of the world, different images and symbols are treated with reverence, an attitude of deep respect and esteem. I think that this differs from worship which has a sense of deep devotion and often ritual observances to accompany the devotion. This continuum from reverence to worship seems to make many quick to label the devotion “idolatry,” which has a clearly derogatory meaning to it. For instance, in my Catholic faith, many revere Mary. This has caused some Protestants to say that the Catholic faith practices idolatry, worshiping Mary rather than her son Jesus. This joins a parade of ways people of different faiths deride others, often by misunderstanding their practices.
I would welcome the day that we could accept different patterns of reverence around the world without being so quick to label it idolatry. In one’s personal religion observances, one can decide who or what to worship. But may we respect that one woman’s reverence may be very different from our own. That is something that reading blogs from around the world has certainly taught me.