I grew up in a protestant church tradition that valued not complaining, chin-up manners, correct posture, and constrained yawns while firmly affixed to a hard-wooden pew, listening to the incomprehensible yammerings of a man draped in a black, authoritative robe. Our “Sunday” clothes were always freshly washed, ironed, and itchy. And, in these clothes, play was forbidden. So was eating anything more than a little TIC-TAC of what I was told was supposed to be bread. Water from the water fountain was fine before or after worship, but the thimble-sized cup of grape juice was all that was allowed.
All of this, of course, is what it was like to sit through “Big Church” as a child. We called it “Big Church” because the room we sat in was the biggest room we had ever sat in, and, with the exception of the “Children’s Message,” it was for big people. There were sporadic exceptions to this monotony, such as that one Sunday a year when we were given great big leaves to wave around like lightsabers. But “going to church” as it was called was nothing more than that weekly drudgery.
Of all the months of the year, February mostly closely resembles my childhood Sundays. The wind whistles some cold, drab lyric. The clouds shuffle by like geriatrics passing the peace of Christ. Gray skies, damp mornings, broken promises of snow, February preaches a boring lifetime of mediocrity.
The tide rolls in and out and each wave blends with the next and the one before. A stone path divides water from water, lunging all broken but cobbled together, essaying forever. The clouds fuse into an impenetrable, near-colorless obstacle and blot out the infinite dalliance of sparkling orbs. The horizon is lost, smeared into half-thought images and creatures from imagination. Where is God in this? Does God reveal glory and beauty in blanketed skies and banks of fog?
The answer, I think, is yes. Somewhere in the monotony is the beauty of a child delighted. “Do it again,” we whisper to the One who moves water and clouds. “Do it again,” we whisper because we haven’t yet learned to believe in ugly and ordinary. “Every day is a god,” Annie Dillard once wrote. And this month is packed with 28 gods. Amen. Amen. Thank you, Creator.
I think back on those childhood Sundays. I must’ve seen the beauty in the worship. I must’ve grasped something of the holy. It wasn’t long until I grew up to be the preacher veiled in a black robe. And it is no doubt that little children listened to me while they scratched at their itchy pants. Maybe their lives will eventually whisper, “Do it again.” Maybe my life, out in the foggy mornings and overcast evenings, that’s to say, in Big Church, will too.
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