Monday, March 13, 2006

Paging ICU...

Since many of you asked about how my Sunday went, here's a recap:

The first part of the service went fine. Doing the announcements made me feel like a talk show host; I was thorough, and funny, and able to ad lib -- heck, if I'd boogied down the aisle and given away fabulous prizes it would have been just like "Ellen." Our guest musicians, Lutheran camp counselors who muchly impressed our confirmation kids this year, did a terrific job, and even got uptight yours truly moving a little in the pew. My AM did a good job; when it came time for the Gospel Acclamation it sent shivers down my spine to direct the congregation to rise and then to read the text. Then came the sermon.

Now, it's not like I think I'm St. Paul at the Acropolis or anything, but I thought I'd written a good little sermon on the theme "Blessed are the meek." But as I gave it, I looked out into the congregation and saw several sets of glassy eyes. Oh, crap, I thought (or the dynamic equivalent). The gaggle of Brownies in the front rows were nattering and squirming, and none of the adults attached to them were shushing them. I heard other people talking. I have to tell you, people talking in church after the service begins drive me insane even when I'm not front and center, and now it just seemed to underline my perception that I was dying up there in the pulpit. Why can't you be as interested in this topic as I am? I thought desperately.

So I was glad to finally descend from the pulpit and turn the proceedings over to my AM, who's a graduate of my lay ministry program and has a situational dispensation from our bishop to consecrate the Eucharist if our pastor isn't available.

But as I sat in the front pew, next to some of the Brownies, they started squabbling with one another over our imminent Eucharist.

"You can't go up there. You haven't been to class."

"Yes, I can! That minister said I could! And my mom said I could!"


I felt a tug on my alb. "Can she go up to Communion? She didn't go to class."

Sotto voce, I told the little girl that, yes, she could go to Communion -- if she held up her palms, they'd give her the wafer, and if they didn't, she'd get a blessing. The first little girl looked daggers at me and started whining.

My attempt to remind myself of Piaget's stages of development -- This is how kids this age act, they aren't capable of nuanced thought, they're very rule- and fairness-oriented, they can't help it -- was short-circuited by annoyance: Where the hell are the moms? Why didn't they prep these kids beforehand on what to do in church? How did I wind up babysitting these miniature harpies? This must be what hell is like -- surrounded by bitchy little Heathers-in-training.

I got mad. I put on the disciplinarian face. I raised the pedagogical index finger. I want all of you to be quiet right now, I hissed sternly. You're disrupting the service during a very important part. I almost told them, but didn't, that they were making the Baby Jesus cry. Now they were all glaring at me.

My post-Communion prayer: I am about to lose it. This is not how I wanted this morning to be. Help me.

Despite handshakes and hugs after the service, by the time I got into my car, I was ready to breathe into a paper bag.

I know that some of this sounds pretty comic, and I suspect that one day I'll be able to look back on it and laugh...but my Sunday morning experience led to a downward spiral that's still headed south.

What's my motivation? I want to help people find sacred space, space to worship; how do I do that in a church that is at times so noisy and anarchic, with people seemingly not engaged in what's going on? I love to learn about the Bible and about theology -- how do I transmit that love to people who don't seem all that interested? And, most importantly, how can I presume to be a minister of any kind when I can't even seem to minister to myself?

And how do I nurture my own faith? Some Sundays I am so desperate for a spirituality that acknowledges the holiness of God and supports a reverance for God. I want to be able to genuflect, to genuinely express the awe of encountering "Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty"; I want to be able to get down on my knees in the context of the worship service; I want to be able to rest in holy silence; I want to enter into that place where heaven meets earth. But people in my congregation just don't seem to be where I am. And is it fair of me to expect that they would be?

Sometimes I feel so alone in my church. And then I feel guilty for feeling alone: Who do you think you are?

Good question.

I think I need to be checked into a spiritual ICU and let other people, people with some expertise in spiritual direction, take care of me for awhile. But I don't know who or where or when or how. I just don't know.


Mata H said...

LC When Jesus gave that Sermon on the Mount, the mount was probably a pretty noisy place, people coming and going, kids whining, life all around. Jesus just kept talking and then gave everybody lunch.

Trust the message.

LutherHen said...

Ah, yes! Blessed are the cheesemakers!

Emily said...

"Heathers-in-training. . . "

heh heh

Annie Dillard has a wonderful essay about worship, something about the Pole. I can't think of the title offhand (maybe someone else can jump in?). But she talks about the craziness of our failed attempts at liturgy in the face of our God.

Sunday liturgy is about so much--it's not the same as liturgy at a retreat. Sometimes the miracle is that we all get to the final hymn at the same time.

LutheranChik said...

I thought about that Dillard essay too. And about Andy Hardy movies: "I know! Let's put on a play out in the barn!" There is a certain amount of absurdity built into the premise, isn't there.

SingingOwl said...

Ooh, I can relate. I just HATE the glassy eyes when you are trying hard to speak truth.

If you find that ICU place, please let me know about it.

LutheranChik said...

Judging from some of the conversations I've had with friends lately, I think we need a M*A*S*H unit.


Laura J said...

Hi Lutheranchik. Just found your blog. Love it! Can totally relate to your Sunday. My last congregation was constant chaos. There are two things I try to remind myself on those days: 1. In our day and age nobody has to get up and go to church on Sunday. Plenty of other respectable options. But the people in front of me resisted Starbucks and the Sunday paper and showed up. That's something in itself. 2. At a preaching conference years ago, I heard James Forbes remind a cathedral full of preachers that "Every Sunday, somebody in your church needs to be saved. Tell them some good news." I figure I'll never know who that one person was, but I just have to keep speaking gospel truth anyway, the best I know how, by God's grace.

And thank you so much for your prayer for Tom Fox!

HereISit said...

I think people you don't think are listening hear more than you are expecting and the ones that appear to be listening probably hear less or their own version anyway.

And then the children....I remember the time my youngest was about 3 and still in my arms in church. The pastor was reading the scripture about John the Baptist. My little one piped up, quite loudly, "Mom, he said 'burn the cat.' He said 'burn the cat.'" Now I'll send you to your Bible: Matt 3:12.

katherine105 said...

This really hit home to me. I could have written that third to the last paragraph myself (only not so well!)and especially the part about feeling so alone in my church, and then thinking who do you think you are?

This is exactly how I felt at my former church. I truly believe that God took pity on my flawed selfish sinner's heart and led me to the ancient Orthodox Church. It's a dang sure bet I wouldn't have come on my own.

See, I knew there was something wrong with me. Oh not it any brooding psychopathic sense, but I knew I needed something more than I was getting. Friends and family that I struggled to express this to, apparently thought that I had low self-esteem (rather the reverse, actually, lol!)and not sin. I needed treatment, not reassurance.

Connie said...

I have experienced the tension between wanting some contemplative atmosphere in worship and trying to meet the needs of the congregation, or not to get in the way of them, at least. It is tough. It is impossible in the state psychiatric hospital chapel where I'm in charge. It is very difficult at the small Episcopal church where I am one of the preachers. All I can say is, There's nothing wrong with you for wanting the silence and reverence; God seems pleased when I put my own need aside and try to serve the needs of the majority of people as best I can; I offer the gap between my desire and the reality as part of the "sacrifice of praise." And ditto to the folks above who said you never know who needed your sermon that day. I am sure it did not go to waste.