We've been in a blogging drought, but I'm hoping this season of reflection inspires me to write more. (Gaines, though not entirely lost to the internets, has way too much reading for school this semester. But one can hope.) Maybe he'll link to something lighthearted like Rock Sugar. Anyway, on to the meaty stuff I've been mulling over this week.
Last Wednesday night I attended an Ash Wednesday service at Gaines' grandmother's church. The Hueytown United Methodist church happens to be one of my favorite sanctuaries because it is circular, just like Yielding Chapel, which my fellow BSC alumni may also remember fondly. In a circular sanctuary the entire congregation can see each other. You are reminded that everyone -- choir and congregants alike -- are participants in the service. You can see everyone singing. You can see the toddlers and the kids and the adults and the babies and the elderly all joining in together during the responsive reading. Everyone is on the same level except the minister, whose podium is elevated. I like this because it elevates the preaching of the Word, while still focusing on the Table in the center, which reminds us of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Marva Dawn, in her book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, describes how Christ should be both the subject and the object of our worship. There are many ways to emphasize this in the service, but I think that the layout of the sanctuary certainly helps, especially if it reminds us that we are participants in worship and that our worship is directed toward the Lord. It helps take away that whole stage mentality. But I digress.
The other important thing to remember about a circular sanctuary is that everyone can see everyone else. They can see your cute baby. They can see your cute baby when he's crying. They can see your cute baby when he bonks his head trying to crawl under a pew. And they can see when you're the one whose phone goes off -- twice -- during the scripture reading and you can't figure out how to turn it off -- twice. Also, circular sanctuaries make it really easy to hear everything, like when your almost three-year old comes up to the altar for the "Imposition of Ashes" and proclaims, "I don't want a cross on my head!"
Thank goodness no one seemed to mind. They were nice to this visiting mom of two and even were gracious when I had to trade off kids halfway through -- I went back to the nursery to leave Ethan and ended up bringing back a clingy, sick Jacob, who mostly sat on my lap. Surprisingly, he paid attention to even the message, because when the minister repeatedly talked about how the ashes were made from last year's Palm Sunday branches, Jacob asked me, "Where are the palm trees, Mommy?"
One of the highlights of the service for me was singing this hymn, a children's hymn. I'd never heard it before, but was grateful for the words as I help my youngest in my arms and thought about how much I am in need of a reminder, especially in this season, to die to self and hope only in Christ. I thought some of you might appreciate it as well.
"Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days"
Words: Claudia F. Hernaman, Child’s Book of Praise; A Manual of Devotion in Simple Verse, 1873.
Music: St. Flavian, Day’s Psalter, 1563
Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins
And close by Thee to stay.
As Thou with Satan didst contend,
And didst the victory win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to conquer sin.
As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.
And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy passiontide,
Yea, evermore in life and death,
Jesus, with us abide.
Abide with us, that so, this life
Of suffering over past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last.