None of us is particularly keen to do it. Not my husband, not me, none of our four kids. Dinner's done, table's wiped, the kitchen's finally clean. It's Sunday evening, the last shred of the weekend, and everyone's first choice would be a laid-back family movie. But we lean into it anyway, my husband pulling out his guitar and me rifling through song sheets, finding the children's Bible.
The service we'd attended that morning (and skipped last week altogether) was in Greek, and the kids couldn't get into the English translation piped-in via headphones. Eventually we let them go play in the tiny adjoining nursery area. No Sunday school, no Wednesday night AWANA, no Christian school teacher teaching verses or leading prayers. We six, here in our tall stone house in a Cretan foothill, comprise the body at this moment.
So we gather, all elbows and bumping, in the living room. Muttered complaints. The kids fight their rowdiness, spurred by stern words from me, as my husband tunes his guitar. A muted squabble over who's sitting in which seat persists well into the first song but we quell it by sheer perseverance; our singing volume finally drowns it out. Everyone loosens up a little, gives themselves to the reality that this is What We're Doing Now.
We do three numbers, among the repertoire of five or so we've normalised since we started this practice. Worship songs simple to play, to learn, to sing... for of course there's no 'rehearsal.' What we see, what we are, is what we get - and what God gets. And the kids know the words now, more or less. They sing and the little girls dance a little too.
Prayer's next, and one by one we go around the circle- this one an out-loud prayer focused on thanksgiving. Tell God one thing you're thankful for that He's given. One kid's tapping loudly and has to be silenced. Our littlest thanks slyly voices her thanks to God for "throw up"... aaaand has to be redirected.
I read a chapter from the Gospel after that and we have a group discussion about the passage. We ask questions about what it says and means, why it matters. How would we have felt if they had been there? Why we you think Jesus told them that? What's surprising about the way he acts? It's a pretty fruitful discussion, and we need pause only one short time to request that one remove toes from the side of another's leg. This equates, methinks, with clear success. "Sermon" segment: a win.
After a few minutes we do another circle prayer, this time specifically praying for someone else (or ourselves) about an issue. The subject of throw-up is blessedly avoided this time. One child can't think of anyone who needs prayer and asks for a pass. Afterwards we talk briefly about how prayer works - how we can pray the goodness of God over people (anyone, anytime) even when there's no special issue to pray for. How God loves this and donors it.
It's about over now, less than twenty minutes after we started. My husband begins strumming the opening chords of our final song, and in a moment the silent chill comes, unbidden. I feel the raw, whole beauty of this gathering. The weight of the presence of these children, our children. Through my own body God brought them to this earth, and now here they are in all their rowdy, immature, mischievous beauty. With my husband and me, singing His glory, muddling forward toward Him with joy and grit. These are my people, and he is my God. His presence fills this place.
"Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" I say it with David. It overwhelms.
Sometimes the things that seem the most unholy turn out to be the holiest.