Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fullness Part 1

It's a familiar scene: the Sunday service is going on. The congregation has gathered and participating in the act of worship. But then, a whimper. Followed by a cry. Heads turn. The child is gathered up after a few futile attempts to hush, and the nearest exist is found. The noise fades slowly as the door closes, and worship resumes.

"I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears." Psalm 6:6

One thing I owe to my studies in divinity school is the extra attention given to implicit messages. That which is communicated through the way we do (or don't do) in worship and other church activities. Much of this I owe to reading Elliot Eisner's chapter on "The Three Curricula all Schools Teach" in his work The Educational Imagination. Without getting into too much detail, Eisner argues that we are teaching in everything we do, the way we do them, and the things that we don't do. Eisner's argument makes me wonder about what we teach when we remove crying children from worship and what that implies.

Now, I'm not a parent, so I've never had to deal with the situation I describe above. But I fear that what we are teaching (implied) is that crying has no part in worship. Or, to use a more divinity school phrase: we no longer see lament as a part of worship. Again, I'm sure that most children crying in church are not lamenting...but I think it still sends the message that we are not to give voice to those emotions in worship and conversation with God.

I fear in many congregations we no longer feel comfortable approaching God in worship with honesty about our problems. I don't have a solution to the problem I describe: I'll admit to being extremely distracted by crying babies. But, I wonder if we might discover a fuller kind of worship if we are willing to embrace the fullness of our being in worship: joy, sadness, praise, lament, elation, sorrow... The Psalms reflect a wide variety of emotion as they speak to God. We might do well to allow ourselves and others to be less than content at times.

What are your thoughts on this?