Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Somewhere in the Midst

There have been many joyful surprises over this past year as a solo priest. One of the most delightful, however, has been the pictures.

I remember when I was a child, one of my favorite things to do during church was to draw a picture of what I was seeing. It always looked the same: the big pulpit in the center of the M-21 Church of Christ with the baptistry behind it and the communion table in front of it. The preacher standing behind it in suit and tie. I'd work especially hard drawing the preacher because I never was very good at drawing people. He'd usually have his arms upraised in some act of rhetorical persuasion.

I don't know what I did with those drawings each Sunday. Maybe I gave them to my parents. Maybe I left them in the pew. I'm pretty sure that I never gave them to the preacher when we were shaking hands on our way out the door.

Over this past year at St. John's I have several times been handed drawings from children as I shake hands at the end of the service. They are always delightful. There is one child in particular who likes to draw a similar picture every time. A hill with a church on it. God is in the sky and there are usually three figures: him, me, and Thomas (the Tank Engine). Sometimes Jesus is standing there with us. I get the impression this is a happy picture for him... and I'm glad.

I do think that children draw "what they see" in church—not always what they see literally but what they see in their mind when church happens. I always saw a preacher preaching with hands outraised. The child I mention above always sees him, me, and Thomas the Tank Engine on our way to the church (though never inside, curiously enough). These drawings a like a window into a child's mind.

Last Wednesday, after our midweek Eucharist, another child handed me a picture. Like all the others, I think this was a picture of what she "saw" when she was sitting in church.

Two candles, flames burning. The altar cross which sits above our tabernacle. And somewhere up there in the midst of it all: God.

I never drew God in my pictures. I drew the sermon, probably because that was where I encountered God. As I looked at last week's picture when it was handed to me—as I look at it again now—I find it hard to express how very much it moves me, deep within my soul. Is there a greater thing in the world than the reality that this child really and truly sees God up there, in the midst of it all? That her sense of God was so tangible, so real, she didn't seem to hesitate to write it down.

There's a sense sometimes in Christian churches that children should always go and be a part of a different worship experience, whether for a part of the liturgy or for all of it. Our "adult" liturgy is supposedly beyond a child's mind to grasp. Supposedly. At St. John's, we do have a children's church opportunity for small children during the first part of the liturgy, but the children are always ushered back in at the Peace to be a part of the Great Thanksgiving and our sharing of Holy Communion.

It's almost an opposite image of what happened in the early church. During the peace in the early church the catechumens (those unbaptized members of the community) left the worship space. They were not yet a part of the Eucharistic fellowship, and so they would leave... until their Easter baptism. After their Easter baptism, they would finally stay.

In our church, I absolutely adore the image each Sunday of twenty or so small children running into the worship space during the Peace—a sure and definite part of our Eucharistic fellowship. And while they may not understand it all, I do think they understand much more than they let on. I think they certainly understand more than we sometimes give them credit.

They know that somewhere up there, somewhere in the midst of candles, crosses, prayers, and robes, God becomes present. Somewhere up there in the midst of it all God becomes present for them in a particular way, in a way they can reach out and touch and taste and take inside. They know that with enough certainty to write it down on a sheet of paper, with as much confidence as a child might draw a picture of an altar candle: God is there.

God is there.

And this priest, for one, is grateful to be reminded of that fact.

Jesus told his followers, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs."

I say softly to the little children, "Let us adults come to God, please help us, because sometimes we forget where God is. After all, it is to such as you that the kingdom of God belongs."

No comments:

Post a Comment