In order to achieve spiritual growth and realisation, the ego-centered individual at some point needs to open up to a larger reality, and develop a real relationship to that reality. On the emotional level, this process is what we call “love”. While it is true that the first steps of the individual toward this emotional opening are generally weak, or motivated by various vital desires or needs, or physical attractions and cravings, at some point, the very act of outreach represents what we might consider to be the first stage of a series of progressions that have their ultimate fulfillment and meaning in the pure, selfless and intense devotion or adoration that eventual results when we have recognized the true object of our devotion and turned our heart’s focus and intensity in that direction.
Along the way there are intermediate stages such as worship of a particular image, embodiment of God in a particular person, whether Avatar, Vibhuti, Guru, Prophet or Savior.
Sri Aurobindo takes up this subject in some depth: “All love, indeed, that is adoration has a spiritual force behind it; even when it is offered ignorantly and to a limited object, something of that splendour appears through the poverty of the rite and the smallness of its issues. For love that is worship is at once an aspiration and a preparation: it can bring even within its small limits in the Ignorance a glimpse of a still more or less blind and partial but surprising realisatino; for they are moments when it is not we but the One who loves and is loved in us, and even a human passion can be uplifted and glorified by a slight glimpse of this infinite Love and Lover. it is for this reason that the worship of the god, the worship of the idol, the human magnet or ideal are not to be despised; for these are steps through which the human race moves towards that blissful passion and ecstasy of the Infinite which, even in limiting it, they yet represent for our imperfect visino when we have still to use the inferior steps Nature has hewn for our feet and admit the stages of our progress.”
Each of the forms we worship also partake of that greater Truth; and when one recognises the Omnipresent Divinity, both beyond all forms and within and manifesting all forms, the worship can take on a more complete meaning. “Our knowledge is still imperfect in us, love incomplete if even when we know That which surpasses all forms and manifestations, we cannot still accept the Divine in creature and object, in man, in the kind, in the animal, in the tree, in the flower, in the work of our hands, in the Nature-Force which is then no longer to us the blind action of a material machinery but a face and power of the Universal Shakti: for in these things too is the presence of the Eternal.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pg. 149