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The Work of Children

Today is Trinity Sunday.

In church, they set apart this Sunday to acknowledge the mystery of Who God is as the Three-in-One.

The kids were sent off during the service in order to go outdoors and to look for examples of three-in-one. The most common find was clover: three leaves, but just one plant.

When the children came back in and reported what they had found, the priest was excited and he offered a prayer of thanks for the work that the children had done this morning.

That caught my attention.

Kids playing in the church’s garden looking for symbols of the character and nature of God is work. We often times call it “Sunday School,” but this priest seemed to view it as the kids at the office: doing their work to explore who God is.

How often do we consider our work to be about seeking understanding of the reality of God? How often do we view our work as looking at the world through intentional eyes to see where He is revealing His mystery to us? How often do we invest and exert ourselves on Sunday morning in order to arrive at a meaningful encounter with Truth?

The priest could see all of this in the morning’s activity for the kids. Why does it seem so hard for us to view our own involvement similarly? We have branded Sunday as a day of rest; the idea of doing work–even (especially?) spiritual work–is something that we might write off out of habit alone.

But the priest saw that these children, and their volunteer leaders, had come to accomplish something: they had come to learn, to grow, to see, and to seek…and their labors were acknowledged and praised before the whole congregation.

If that is the work of children, is our work any different? Rather than having mastered the tasks that they are about, we adults rather too often seem to ignore, overlook, or neglect this work.

The word “liturgy”–as in the order of service, readings, etc. that often make up a church worship service–literally means “the work of the people.” Sunday is a time to gather and work. How many of us see it that way? How many of us come and expect to exert ourselves, to labor, to engage actively and intentionally in the words and songs, the standings and sittings, the ritual and relationships?

The work of the children this morning was inspiring to me. Perhaps even more so, the priest’s response to their activity has challenged my perspective. Viewed this way, what is my work? What should it be? And what is the “work” that I am actually doing?

I’ve often heard it said that prayer is work. Perhaps children, and this priest, understand this far better than most of us.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Life, Prayer

 

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We Worship What We Fear

According to some anthropologists, religion is a human universal. Wherever there are people, there are thoughts of the realm of the unseen, attempts to explain, survive, and control forces which exist in parallel to our material reality.

Some would argue that at the root of all of those notions is the human feeling of fear. That which we cannot grasp, do not understand, that which can impact our lives in ways that we cannot avoid gives birth to feelings of fear in us. We are worried about how things will turn out. We are intimidated that we may become the victims of the capriciousness of the cosmos.

And so we fear.

That sense of fear leads us to worship, to honor that which has power over us, to seek to placate the force(s) which may inflict harm upon us.

How does this notion align with the Christian sense of worship?

We read in the Bible that we are to “fear God.” We often explain that sense of “fear” as meaning “reverence,” encouraging one another that we are not to live in terror of God but rather to honor Him as supreme in the management of His universe.

But the word that we read is “fear.” There are many encouragements to “fear not” as well, statements pushing us toward freedom from being bound by inappropriate intimidation.

While fear usually has a negative connotation, I think there is one sense in which, anthropologically speaking, it’s right on: we worship what we fear.

In realizing our own limitations and helplessness, anything that we perceive as having power over us becomes a source of fear. And our mechanism to deal with that fear is worship.

As we gaze upon God, the degree of our limitations and helplessness should be readily apparent. He is the Creator, Master, Judge, King…and we are not. He holds all things in His hands, which includes us, our families, our possessions, the breath in our lungs. Nobody can stand against His decrees. The cosmos itself bows to His whims.

As Christians, we want to be people who worship God rightly. We recount and celebrate His goodness, grace, salvation, and blessings…we seek to stir up gratitude within ourselves, hoping to overflow in praise, and worship.

But I wonder how we’re doing with considering fear as a foundational element of our relationship with God.

We do have a God that is good; He is not a despot bent on the exploitation of all for His own self-aggrandizement. But He is a “tyrant” in the original sense of that word–“an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution.” Should we tremble before Him?

Currently, my thinking about how to appropriately fear–and thus, worship–God is centering on this idea: the confrontation of our own limitations in the light of God’s grandeur should lead us to a place of desperation. We can do nothing for ourselves. The world is complex, full of ugliness that is far outside of our control. We are hopeless…except that there is One who can manage it all, who can straighten it out, who sees through the complexity. If He doesn’t act, we are lost…but if He does, then life can be far better than we could imagine.

In desperation, we cry out to God, asking Him to be who He is, to exert His character as the Sovereign of the Universe, who is unlimited in power, goodness, and blessing, who is the absolute standard for Justice and Righteousness. We acknowledge His worth because we are in desperate need for Him to manifest His character and presence among us; without His activity, we sit weak and helpless amidst a world that brings suffering and confusion.

Everybody is afraid of something, and we worship whatever it is that we fear.

In a sense, I am afraid that God will not act, that He will not show Himself, that He will not speak to His people. And so, I am moved to worship–to plead with God that this not be so: crying out to Him to act and reveal and speak…this is the only remedy to prevent my fears from being fulfilled.

 

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Life

 

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Fumbling Worship

They were decked out in leather jackets. She was wearing incredibly tall high-heeled shoes. His head was shaved.

I had never seen them before in the Anglican church, sitting right up front on the left side.

And I’m fairly certain they had never been there before.

They could never quite figure out which hymn number we were singing. They were exactly out of sync with when to stand and when to sit. The fumbled with coins as the offering plate came by, dropping them all to the floor and having to catch the usher later as he made his way back up the aisle in order to make their contribution. During the vicar’s sermon, as she got up to get a pencil, the clack-clack-clacking of her high-heels on the ancient stone slab floor reverberated throughout the entire sanctuary.

By many evaluations, they messed up pretty much every facet of their participation in corporate worship that day.

But they came.

Unashamed, they sat near the front when they could’ve hidden in the back behind a monolithic pillar. And they did the best they could to involve themselves in the pageantry of the worship service.

Why were they there? True enough: many young couples come simply because they want to have a church wedding, and they’re required to attend services at the church beforehand.

Maybe that was their reason, as ignoble as it seems. Or maybe they came looking for something. Maybe someone encouraged them to give it a try. Maybe they had come as little children and wanted to make another go of it.

I can recall many times when I have fumbled, and continue to do so. I’ve become lost in looking at the liturgy or the lyrics, only to suddenly come to realization that I am the only one in the massive hall that is still standing (or sitting).

I recite the Lord’s Prayer, loudly, with my American accent ringing clearly in my pronunciation of “trespasses”–and everyone around me knows that I don’t quite fit in. I sing songs with the “wrong” tunes, familiar to me from my upbringing, but differing from the British version being played.

I recall playing guitar to lead music for a Sunday school class one morning. Despite my practice, I couldn’t hit the right chords or find the right rhythm to generate anything approaching a singable tune.

Fumbling worship.

But whereas we, from our place of judgment and evaluation, might put our emphasis on “fumbling,” I think God puts His on “worship.”

Was it polished? Elegant? Refined? In sync?

Immaterial. It was an attempt to orient ourselves toward God and to acknowledge a glimpse of His glory.

True enough, there are inappropriate ways to approach Him, but He looks and judges the heart–and He doesn’t get distracted by the clanging coins or clacking heels. I think He would prefer that we make our attempts at worship, entering into a community, even if we come with stumbling and ignorance.

And, He also looks past the outward actions even when we “get them right,” even when our technique is technically perfect. He looks within to determine the place from which we offer our performance. After all, we may be fumbling in our worship, even if no one else can see it.

So, it’s not for me to judge or laugh at this young couple, but it is an occasion to reflect: is my worship, in its imperfections and inadequacies, touching the heart of God in a pleasing way? Am I fumbling the heart, or just the motions?

 

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Life

 

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