I was determined to get it right this Sunday. Having been an Episcopalian all of thirty seconds, I’m still learning the intricacies of Anglican liturgy. What makes it so opulent in meaning and beauty is also what makes it such a daunting task for newcomers to master. Too often, I find myself concentrating exclusively on when to kneel, when to make the sign of the cross, which page of the BCP is coming next, the proper etiquette for the Eucharist, and what does the word oblation mean again? I’m so obsessed with getting the form right that I sometimes forget to actually, you know, worship.
But this Sunday I was going to focus. I was going to let the physical trappings of liturgical posture take a backseat to the Holy Spirit. I was going to let the language and symbolism and candlelight and tolling bells wash over me as I listened for Her whisper in my ear.
As Andy presented what was, at least to me, an interesting and novel approach to the Bread of Life passage, I found it a bit hard to hear him over the little boy one pew up.
I’ve always been taught that the sound of crying babies and the giggling of toddlers is a blessing in worship. Faithful parents who bring their children to praise God from birth are to be honored. Jesus himself said that children are the Kingdom in its purest human form. What Jesus did not mention was the fact that it’s challenging to hear the voice of God in the sermon over these particular citizens of the kingdom. So I tried not to be annoyed and just listened harder. The Eucharistic portion of the service began and I grabbed for my program. When we began to sing the Lord’s Prayer, the little boy, who had been conducting a war on his pew with his action figures, suddenly whipped around to face the altar and snapped to attention. He didn’t just sing the prayer. He performed it. I don’t know if his choreography was his own invention or had been taught in Sunday School or at home, but it was an exuberant performance. He slung his hands, punched the air, jumped from one foot to another, all in perfect synchronization with the song.
I couldn’t help it. I cracked. The whole pew shook with the laughter I was trying so hard to contain. It didn’t help when the teenagers sitting at the other end of the pew all stared openly at me, snickering. It just made it funnier. I had to turn to the wall, hand over my mouth, and just let the laughter bubble out as quietly as I could manage. I tried to sing through it, but I don’t think I managed to string two consecutive notes together without losing my composure all over again. Once the song was over, I felt cleansed, bouyant. When I rose to approach the altar, I didn’t bother marking my place in the BCP. As I knelt to take the bread, I didn’t once contemplate the concept of transubstantiation. When I returned to my seat, it didn’t occur to me to kneel. I was too transfixed by light filtering through stained glass. I had walked into the sanctuary that morning with the goal of hearing what the Spirit had to say to me. She spoke to me, not through the Bible or the liturgy or the music or even the Eucharist, but through a preschooler. She reminded me what true worship is. So much of my spiritual life has been dedicated to trying to get…things…exactly…right, especially when it comes to worship. I doubt I’m alone in this. But if we could all let go of that impulse, at least a little,and muster up a fraction of that little boy’s sheer joy in our worship, our church – our lives – would be transformed.