Church. I love it. Especially the liturgy. I converted to Orthodoxy about ten years ago, drawn to the music and the rhythms of prayer and sacrament. I looked forward to living the rest of my life into that life–slowly, intentionally, exposing my humanity to the church’s sacraments. Becoming more human, more myself. Learning to abide in the Lord have mercies we pray dozens of times.
Roadblock: kids–particularly as the boys grow older, more mobile, more vocal, and in Jonah’s case, more quirky. Two hours in a pew, and much of that time standing, but not only standing, standing still? Right. I used to love Sunday mornings. It still took a fair amount of effort to get there, but once I was, I was always glad to be. So triple that effort, and then remove the payoff. That’s kind of how it feels. This morning as we were hustling J and G into their Sunday best (which basically means not jeans and buttons on their shirts), John mostly mumbled, “What’s the point? It’s fruitless.” I immediately snapped back (with my customary “judgment first, compassion later” protocol), “If you think the sacraments are fruitless, then, then, (I stumbled around here for a suitably dramatic finish), I’m done.” Well, twenty minutes into the service, I was standing in the nursery, in tears, undone. His words echoed back at me: this is fruitless.
Comparatively, Jonah had a pretty good twenty minutes before we bailed (at which point someone snatched our pew, so even if we had wanted to go back into the sanctuary for the rest of the service, it would have been, word-of-the-day, fruitless). But he was just done. The space was crowded and tight. I think the domed ceiling helped a little. Another local church with a much darker interior and close-feeling walls turns him completely manic in his body, squirming, rolling, requiring the one or other of us to wrap him in our arms while continuously rubbing his chest with strong, deep strokes. And as he gets older, his strange behavior can’t be chalked up to being a crazy toddler. Besides, Gabriel proudly wears that mantra now.
So we keep trying new churches, but we end up having to make our choices by negation. And what feels good about that? I don’t have an answer here, except that I want to keep trying. And there’s almost always someone who somehow reaches out with compassion, usually with a smile or a laugh at the antics of one of our kids. It’s just that I can’t just live on smiles. I need a community. We’re simply not around long enough to assimilate. And I haven’t mentioned the Greek snag. Best saved for another post.
Since the Orthodox Church isn’t big on nurseries (the whole point is for the children to learn and participate in the liturgy with the rest of us), wouldn’t it be great if churches had a ministry where members would volunteer to sit with special needs kids so that their parents could worship and pray and leave a little more restored than when they came? Once you become part of a community this happens naturally, like it did at our church in Columbia, MO. People knew Jonah; they’d known me pregnant with him, they knew how loud and long he could scream as a colicky infant. They got used to his funny antics and funny questions. They didn’t mind if he stroked their arms or snuggled in (sometime uncomfortably) close, his face pressed into the bosom of a well-endowed yia yia. Okay, they usually did redirect him when he got to rubbing their skirted and stockinged legs. Understandably.
I know this is a season, that it will pass or transform into another reality. I try to remember that. And what John murmured in passing, as I chased Gabriel to the water fountain and he sat with Jonah in a nearby courtyard, soaking up sun from the warm concrete: “They’re who we got.” I can always count on him for unwavering unsentimentality. The truth is hardly ever easy, but learning to submit to it is how I get a little more free.