I want to share with you an experience I had last Sunday. But before I do that, you have to know some things about me. First I am not a “traditional worship” kind of person. It’s a personal preference. Reciting the same scripted words with a large group of people too fast for me to really mean the words I am saying isn’t worship to me. And there are very few traditional hymns that stir my soul and speak my heart to God. However I am very aware that for many people, that is the way in which they are most worshipful and therefore am grateful it is available in my church for those who worship God in this way.
As a child, I remember sitting in traditional worship, hearing the droning of the congregation as they chanted the Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, thinking to myself that there had to be more. More than repeating the same words every week to the point of losing the meaning and depth of gratitude or shame or need being articulated. As a preteen, I began exploring my faith and asking myself – Do I really believe God exists or am I doing all this because it’s something my parents told me to do? While in church one Sunday morning, I drifted out of a daydream and found that I had, completely unaware, been reciting the Lord’s Prayer with the congregation the whole time. As I look around the sanctuary, I saw the empty eyes of the other parishioners who, like me, weren’t really involved in worship. This event sparked an anger and resentment towards all things church and ultimately led to my choice to believe that there was no God.
Well, you know the end of the story. God, in his infinite love and mercy, pursued me until I couldn’t deny his existence and grace any longer and then he brought me into the wonderful church family I have been a part of for twelve years now. Since that time as a young girl, I haven’t been able to recite the Lord’s Prayer in a congregational prayer setting. I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Now to the story I wanted to tell you – Last Sunday, I woke up feeling very much like rolling over and going back to sleep. I’m sure you know the feeling. As I struggled to drag myself out of bed, it occurred to me that I am so blessed to live in a country where I am free to attend worship anywhere, anytime, without fear of retribution. There are many countries in the world where admitting you are a Christian is like signing your own death warrant. Christians in those countries take their lives and the lives of their families in their hands just to gather with a few others in quiet worship. Yet still they gather because their God, the God of Grace and Salvation, is worthy of worship and praise.
I leave what happened next to your own discernment as to whether it was simply my imagination or a spiritual blessing given by God, both or neither. As I was getting ready to leave for church, I began feeling connected to a Middle Eastern woman (whom I don’t know and couldn’t describe) who was huddled in a corner in fear that she would be discovered. She was praying to God that she could be in worship with other Christians just once before she died. To reach out her hands in worship and sing at the top of her lungs of how glorious God is. To hear the Word spoken and expounded by God’s preacher and share with others what God has done in her life. I felt I had to go to church for her that day because she couldn’t.
As we sang some of my favorite songs that morning, I felt her singing with me and when we got to the prayer time, the pastor closed with the Lord’s Prayer. All the anger, resentment and hesitation I usually experience when I hear him start those familiar words, “Our Father, who art in heaven….” never surfaced. To my surprise, I heard my voice say those all too familiar words with the rest of the congregation. In my mind and heart, I was praying this hand-in-hand with my Middle Eastern friend. I realized that the Lord’s Prayer was one of the few things she and I could share together, even with our language barrier, differing social customs, and worldview, we have the Lord’s Prayer in common.
I don’t know if that will change how I react next time our pastor begins that prayer or if I will ever again experience that kind of spiritual connection with another that made worship so unique that day, but the memory of it will remain a blessing in my life for many years to come. There is no lesson, no moral of the story for you to take away except perhaps to recognize the blessings in your life and pray for those who are not so fortunate.
About the pictures:
North Park (May 2010)