Getting ourselves there, along with an injured friend who needed a ride, in a presentable fashion after proper warnings about behavior and expectations, was difficult enough. But then a few minutes into this quiet, somber service my littlest one decided to try out her voice echoing in the large stone sanctuary. Perhaps some parishioners thought this was sweet, but unsure I quickly went to spend most of the service in the nave, with a baby who alternated between chattering loudly and fussing. At one point she became worried for her sister and began calling her name loudly over and over!
Though I could hear strains of the service, I was only able to participate in the imposition of ashes and the Eucharist itself.
Later that night, I asked my husband in doubt and fatigue, Was it worth it--participating in those rites when I missed the rest and wasn't really in the presence of mind I had hoped for? Was it worth going at all?
He comforted me by speaking about the importance of entering into the ritual, year after year after year, so that it becomes part of the very fabric of my being. And how the beauty of the Church Year is that each year we get to participate again, learning a little more, growing a little more. It is a slow view of sanctification but true, at least in our lives, nevertheless. But it is only in bringing ourselves as we are in the present, rather than waiting for some ideal perfection, that we can hope for this sanctification to occur.
As George Herbert writes in his poem Lent,
It's true we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better that to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior's purity;
Yet we are bid, 'Be holy ev'n as he,"
In both let's do our best.
This view also seems so important to me in light of Lent, I may not be able to keep my disciplines perfectly as Christ did but the Church stands true. My weaknesses only serve to reveal my dependency on His Grace and His Church. And so we enter the disciplines of Lent--fasting, penitence, and prayer--knowing it is not our work but His. But we do so with the hope that
Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.
RJ and I have also been discussing lately the gift of the Church that exists without us and yet invites us to participate. It reminded me of the words from Eucharistic Prayer D from the BCP, "Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and beholding the glory of your presence they offer you unceasing praise. Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you, and glorify your Name..." (p. 373). Though I was distracted in my worship, the Church was not. Though I was caught up in the moment of my child's unruliness, the Church continued in its ceaseless praise.
And then, RJ finally comforted me that I also do not know what good came from our children's attendance. Though they are young and easily distracted, the life of the Church is becoming part of their life too. They were so proud of the ash crosses on their forehead and G shared with her Dad about how happy she was to take communion for the second time. G also told me that the church we were at (we did not attend service at our home church) was "the most beautiful place she had ever been."
And as a testament of the good that comes from bringing our children to worship with us, I was able to rejoice in hearing from my friend Allie this morning in the comments to a previous post, that her 5 year old daughter asked to receive Christ into her life after the imposition of the ashes. Praise be to God!
Here is an amazing example of where Allie and Abe could have decided it was too much trouble to take their little ones to a night service. Or they could have bought into the idea that little ones can't get anything out of the adult service but should instead be entertained in a separate classroom. Or Allie could have just grown impatient with Olivia's behavior in the service as I had done with little C. But instead they entered into this ritual and the Spirit was with them, leading their daughter further into a life with Christ. How blessed for Olivia to be saved in her home church, surrounded by her family, at a time when around the world people were praying,
"[Olivia] got very upset when I started to explain the dust to dust quote after they put the ashes on her forehead. And so we had to go out of the service to talk about it. During the course of the conversation she decided that she wanted to except Jesus as her Savior and so she and I prayed right in the lobby of the church. We are so thankful that we went to the service tonight because it was the first time that we had been able to get to church since Christmas Eve due to travel, illness and snow. And after we prayed she really wanted to go back in the service to "pray and sing", so it was an awesome spiritual night for our family."
"Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord." (prayer during the imposition of ashes from BCP, p. 265)
And though I was distracted, impatient and tired, mine was one of those prayers too, as I know were many of yours. Thanks so much Allie, for sharing and letting us all be a part of this awesome spiritual night!