Breath by breath, bead by bead, the prayers of this parched heart rise. Lips quivering with the yearning of a thirsty heart, pursed to take the blood and flesh, blessed, transubstantiated. Kneaded by hands washed seven times- stripped of yeast and the things that beguile- we come to take the bread in hope to shed our turpitude, arise anew. In the ritual of rest and reset, we speak our words into the world, lingering in the liminal space between asking and accepting
From time to time, my rather loud, Pentecostal church goes back to basics and sings a communal hymn in place of a choral presentation. Days such as these – I feel – lend themselves more to the more contemplative (or less engaged some would argue) worshipers such as me. The hymn today was particularly apt, particularly the 3rd stanza given the disturbing news my friend B shared overnight about her loss.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart And all is darkened in the vale of tears; Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart, Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears. Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay From His own fullness all He takes away.
In keeping with the sense of calmness from this morning, the homily at church today was a reflection on peace, with a key theme being how it is under-girded by a sense of implicit trust. This triggered a recollection of a message Bruce Ware gave many years ago at a New Attitude Conference where he likened trusting God to sitting on a three-legged stool, the three-legs in this case being a recognition that God is all powerful, all wise and all-loving, having our best interests at heart (summarized here).
A timely reminder for me then about re-learning to trust God’s Providence (and people)….
Given my decidedly abysmal attendance at church this year, it is somewhat out of character that I arrive early enough to catch the beginning of the opening hymn, the incredibly mellifluous All Things Bright and Beautiful. It is one hymn, in all its variants of tune and stanza, which I have come to associate with growing up all those many years ago on a University campus in Nigeria. For all of ten years, it was a perennial favourite amongst the teachers and prefects who led morning assemblies, and along with my well worn copy of Songs of Praise remains stuck in my head as markers from that phase of life.
The children have the floor today and as I make my way into the church building a scrawny teenager – clearly filling the role of an usher for the first time – motions for me to approach the front of the building. In the few seconds it takes for me to decide – in general I avoid sitting in the front of buildings – I catch the eye of my friend O, and I sidle up to him, plonking into the empty seat beside him. I smile apologetically at the kid, hopefully there are no hard feelings there.
As children are wont to do, the various events that have been arranged for our worshipping pleasure are performed with much enthusiasm, albeit with a lot of unruliness. There are three year olds crying for their mothers, six year olds waving to their parents in the crowd and more than a few missed beats amidst the songs. My God-daughter Gracie has a starring role in a rendition of the main song. Seated in the crowds seeing her sing the words without missing any of them fills me with some pride.
After its all done and dusted, the one thing that can’t be faulted is the children’s sincerity; in the end the focus is them, and not the performance, the nostalgia that remains with me is a good, if unintended consequence.
The final lingering vestiges of self deceit died today. Against the incontrovertible evidence, I had remained hopeful that I had the ability to transcend my well documented phobia for dancing. Sometime between Ose O Jesu and some other Yoruba song which has escaped my memory, I realized that my rather feeble attempts at ‘dancing’ – clapping rhythmically, nodding my head from time to time, and shuffling from side to side – bore as much resemblance to dancing as a bee buzzing through the air bore to a fish swimming.. My sense of unease was worsened by the fact that it was a thanksgiving Sunday and we had to dance to the offering box. Interestingly, if the number of dancing worshippers was a significant sample of the larger community, then I am fighting a lost cause in refusing not learning to dance.
I think I have never danced in my entire life – not in church, not on my solitary foray into a night club, not at all the birthday parties I attended as a kid, not ever. I don’t remember if it was a concious decision, or if it was/still is a result of a deep seated phobia even I am unaware of, or if I have always lacked that seemingly natural ability to coordinate the limbs in resonance with external tunes, or if I just plain can’t be bothered.
I have always consoled myself by declaring that I am musing over the words of the songs – dissecting the rhymes, pondering the nuances, or sometimes inserting my own words to see if they rhyme better, or if they mean more for me that way. Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when I came close; days when I actually shuffled from side to side as though I were part of an invisible choir from antiquity or nodded my head and plucked strings on an imaginary acoustic guitar in tune with the song being belted out.
Today was one of them days, perhaps the huge cup of coffee I drank this morning as I stepped out into 3 degree centigrade temperatures was culpable, or it was a genuine case of shopping therapy after I ogled my latest acquisition for the umpteenth time, or perhaps it was Charlie leading worship at church, and squeezing in one of my favourite Hillsong songs… Bottom line is I almost danced, but I didn’t.. And I’m left still wondering what dancing must feel like…
Woke up late today and had to head off to a church closer home.. It was an Anglican Church. Felt a little strange with all the reading of prayers, the hymns and all that. Its been at least six to seven years since i set foot in a more traditional church. I must say I found it interesting in any case; perhaps some faith by rote is great for life? I dunno!