I had a whole plan to get through Christmas Eve unscathed.
In a pastor’s family, Christmas Eve is often a last hurdle on the 100 yard dash of this liturgical season. We usually arrive at this high holy moment in our congregation after a feat of planning that feels more like an American Ninja Warrior sprint than a sacred practice.
Add to that pace the fact that this year our family was different. Doubled in size, actually. We have welcomed new children from foster care, age seven and younger, into our family in recent months. Their curiosity and wonder at all things Churchy should have given me a clue that my plans for a *calm* moment of worship were just . . . laughable. But sometimes we miss the glaring clues.
So, into worship we went.
My plan was to slip in right after the service began, because our little ones tend to take in every sound and sight that most congregants take for granted and . . . ask about it, touch it, pick it up, jump on it, or point to it. For this particular, no-seat-left-in-the-house kind of service, I wanted to maintain some level of chill.
Since I knew the liturgy by heart, we waited until the organ prelude had quieted and my Pastor/Husband Jake began the invocation. He bowed his head, and in we walked. Quiet reverence covered the whole sanctuary. And then.
My three year old looked up and saw WHO was giving the prayer. Even though Jake did not look up. This sweet little boy pointed and exclaimed in a shout, “Daddy! That’s my Daddy!!” Right in the middle of the prayer. Jake got a little flustered at the exclamation, but he pressed on. Our little one looked at the congregation – who had stopped listening to one word of the lovely, well-prepared prayer – and said again,”There he is! That’s my Daddy!” There was an audible laugh-sigh throughout the gathered people. I wondered, what do you do after a moment like that?
I shrugged. I’m told that half the sanctuary wiped away tears. Grown men told me they couldn’t handle it.
The disruption startled us and stirred something in us.
The hymn we sang next felt louder, as if our voices had been let loose for a moment. I’m not sure why I wanted a more buttoned-up version of worship that night. I think I wanted everyone to behave and get through the movements of the service. Maybe I needed to feel like things could go smoothly. Maybe I gave too much credit to the value of order.
When did we decide that worship should be about behaving, or getting through the movements, anyway? Smooth and easy is not a theological category. The in-breaking of the Kin-dom of God requires a moment that is disruptive and embodied.
When did we settle for liturgies that tiptoe up to the edge of disruption, but keep one foot firmly in safe territory?
When did we decide that voices who are overcome by curiosity, doubt, or wonder should not interrupt the voices at the pulpit microphone?
When did we start singing at a mumble when we are voicing claims about God?
We have. I have. When I am honest about my frustrations with liturgical moments, I think about the moments that have indeed felt like an in-breaking of God among the people. I begin to question why I feel disheartened or frustrated.
Questioning is a good place to start. Gabrielle Roth reminds us: in many shamanic cultures, if you felt disheartened or dispirited, a medicine person would ask one of four questions –
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
I believe these are powerful questions for a person’s spiritual life.
I am convinced that communities of faith should also begin to ask the same questions.
What if your church asked these questions? What if the ministers who shape your services ask these questions of the liturgical moments for the gathered community? What if we looked at the moment when we stopped dancing and asked:
What would happen if we risked disruption there? What would happen if singing arose right there, once again?
Asking questions seems just right as we walk forward into new liturgical seasons. I hope our well-calculated religious moments are shattered by the sound of a little voice, pointing and naming what is true. After all, behaving and “getting through it” really have no business in liturgy, in the work of God’s people.
Let’s be disrupted in this season. Let’s take our liturgies out for a dance.
(This blog post is also at erinrobinsonhall.com)