It’s Sunday night now, maybe Monday morning, and I think we are actually on Day 5, if you don’t count Sunday. We’re not supposed to, as Sunday is a feast of the resurrection. On Sundays, my spiritual discipline is to try to present a non-anxious presence, which didn’t exactly work out this morning. The goal is to do two things at once–to be calm, or at least to have equanimity, and also to be energized. The day didn’t start well.
First off, I woke up too early thinking I had to change my sermon. Never a good idea, at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. I had used a story about a young man who had returned from Haiti. He recounted his experience of the earthquake, and what it was like for him to hear people singing hymns in the darkness of the streets around midnight in the aftermath of the quake. It’s a great story, of course, and moving, but it seemed to me that to use it in a sermon was manipulative. It was too close to the bone, and as much as one might wish that people be moved by worship, using a story to play on people’s feelings simply seems wrong. So I took it out – a good choice, because it shortened the sermon by about 100 words, thereby reducing the time.
Second, when I got to church, the first half-an-hour was spent setting things up for a special workshop on Lent. Not a big deal in itself, but there was a lot to do, from finding scallop shells for a Lenten fountain, to locating purple felt for the Godly Play story of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. I forgot the shells. Called my husband, who faithfully and without complaint brought them to church. Still remained calm, so far.
The children’s workshop was delightful. Godly Play has the effect of calming everyone down. I told the story of Jesus welcoming the children, which they always like. One grandmother was holding her grandson in his lap. We looked at her, and someone said, “see, Jesus was just like that, holding the little child.” And another piped up, “yes, just like my little brother.” Such moments open time up; things slow way down, and you hear beneath the clamor–the children understood that they were loved.
We ended story-time, and trouped upstairs to look at the Lent fountain. It’s a beautiful large blue vase. Water bubbles up through the center and washes down the sides of vase. We lined the fountain with scallop shells to remind everyone of their baptism. The younger set, 5-7 year olds, were pleased with running water in the narthex, a novel event.
Third, the steeple bell rang in the church across the street, and caught us by surprise, signaling 10 minutes to 10:00 a.m. and then all was a rush and flurry. Who was acolyting–was he still there? Did he go home? He was there–we had a quick prep for the procession. Five minutes before it was time to start, still in my office, I discovered I had practiced a different liturgy setting than we were doing. Anxiety struck. I wanted to pull out my hair. And then I remembered the scripture that morning–Jesus’ trial in the wilderness. Getting ready for worship is hardly the wilderness, but it seemed almost comedic to experience such a chaotic morning the day the Gospel was all about the devil. He’s a trickster in the desert encounter.
The thing about anxiety is if you express it, which sadly, I did, then everyone around you is affected also, the choir director, the parish administrator, the choir. If I had been a hen, (next week’s Gospel), my feathers would have been flying. Lesson learned. Never flap on Sunday morning! We quickly realized all was well–we all knew the liturgy (Setting IV ELW) and there would be no problem.
As soon as we began Confession, I felt relieved. For this sinner, at least, having 5 minutes to rest in the knowledge of God’s forgivenes restored the stately loveliness of Sunday silence. I leaned into the liturgy as if it were the shoulder of an old friend, and felt the support of beloved community, of peace, and the wonderful mysterious solace that is the hour of worship. Sweet hour of prayer, indeed.
Trials come in all shapes and sizes, from big 40 year wilderness journeys, to the very small wilderness of an anxious Sunday morning–The devil will trip us if he can. Take heart, be not afraid! Return to God, the refuge! Easy to remember, hard to practice.