Last Sunday I had to bat cleanup after my own sermon. Sometime during the Nicene Creed, I realized that I’d left something out. It was an important point with significant pastoral implications. It was there on the page, but I whizzed right by. So at the announcements after the Peace I stopped the show. I backed up, clarified, apologized, and went on.
In a liturgy, that sort of thing stands out. The worship has a structure, a method for invoking the holy, and when you alter it people notice. They may get upset. They may even feel like their connection to the holy has been broken.
That’s not how it works in a family. There, order is made to be altered. It’s common for conversations, questions, and arguments to interrupt the supposed structure of daily life.
You’ve just started singing goodnight songs when your child asks with great urgency why you can’t burp in zero gravity. (It’s because without gravity to hold the food down, the gas can’t rise to your mouth.)
In the middle of brushing her teeth, she tells you about the day’s epic game of Thunderball (I don’t know either), blue-green foam shooting out of her mouth onto the mirror, faucet, and counter.
Your partner asks about spring break plans while you’re cutting a toddler’s toenails, wishing you had a 2T straitjacket. That’s just how it goes, and you learn to go along.
Of course, the interruptions aren’t always about burps and Thunderball. Sometimes kids ask why God doesn’t stop robbers. Sometimes they tell you they miss the grandparent they never knew. In other words, sometimes they invoke the holy. And even though we know it’s already 8:09, and they have school in the morning, we pause the tooth brushing and step into the holy with them for a few minutes. It isn’t in the plan, but it’s important, so we roll with it. It’s all part of Christian formation.
Ah, Christian formation.
Perhaps, like me, you wish you were doing a better job of it at home. What this family needs, we say, is a nightly family Bible study, or intercessory prayer at meals, or theological reflection on the potty (captive audience!). We know that the intentional, structured practice of the faith is essential to our children’s growth in Christ. Meanwhile, we’re thankful if they make it through the Johnny Appleseed blessing without spitting on each other.
Formation is really hard to do; it’s much easier to feel guilty about not doing it well enough.
But let’s set aside our guilt for a moment and be proud of the part we get right: the disrupting holy that throws the door open and spins around the room with its arms outstretched, knocking things over and pointing us Godward. Be proud of the crazy questions, the Zen non sequiturs, the intuitions of innocence that catch our breath and leave us gasping, like Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!”
And although it’s right to want some structured spiritual practice in our homes, let’s also hope for some holy chaos in the church. Let’s celebrate its appearing: the baby’s scream as the choir chants “How long, O Lord, how long?” The car alarm that delivers us from a mediocre sermon. The child who yells “What in the world is this?” at the altar rail when given a wafer instead of the usual bread. These are gifts, reminders that the Spirit really does go where it wills, even if it’s under the pew with a fistful of crayons yelling “Let my people go!”
[Image Credit: Jay Hsu via Flickr]