from where I stand: worshiping with the angels

From where I stand is a series of my reflections from thoughts I have during services as I lead my parish at the chanter stand. Maybe some good can come from my wandering mind…

By Charlie Mackesy

Our parish has had several new catechumens in the last year or so. It’s been a good reminder for me that I really am not so far removed from that place of newness and learning. From the pains in my calves as they learned to stand for long services, the fidgeting of a slightly uncomfortableness in a new place.

One of the catechumens I’ve noticed has a habit of movement throughout the service. I stand up at the front to sing so being distracted by the congregation is a part of the job. Side to side, swaying and even stepping one foot up while doing so, their hands touch in front of their torso, fidgeting and trying to find something to do. During one service I began sneaking peeks, wondering how long until their body would be comfortable and calm. But it never happened. The whole service, fidgeting and swaying.

It reminded me much of how my children are in church- very incapable of remaining in one place, fingers finding something to do, feet unable to stay on the ground. And then I remembered- even though my children have been baptized into this church, it is still new to them. It is still a skill that needs honing, a practice their earthly bodies are learning the control to master. And I too,really, know nothing of heavenly worship. As I’ve heard Fr. Stephen Freeman say, church is just playing heaven for adults. We all learn through play, through mimicking those who do the real thing, until one day we’re the real mama, no baby doll but a real live baby in our arms.

This is why we sing “represent the Cherubim”. We are learning to be like the angels. And how patient they are with us. They’ve been worshiping God in this manner for their whole existence. They know how to keep the music and service going while quietly redirecting the attention of all the children in their care. They love to see us all with them in church, but they understand that it’s hard for us. It’s hard to stay still. It’s hard to leave my hands and headscarf and my skirt and all the other distractions alone and keep my hands focused on the crosses they need to do. To keep my lips quiet of earthly conversation and open to sing the words of heaven. But the angels stay with us, patient and understanding that this is all still really new to us too. That we are really just catechumens of heaven, learning as much as we can so when we are to enter into the true church of heaven we will know what to do, what to say, how to be.

The angels do not become angry and pull us out of the service when we cannot focus- they stay right next to us and remind us gently to keep our thoughts on God.

We are all children, playing church while our angels show us the way in our minds, hearts and bodies. If I forget this, I become a pharisee-following the rules and annoyed at those who can’t keep up, but lacking the kingdom of heaven to share with those who are learning too.

3 thoughts on “from where I stand: worshiping with the angels

  1. I’m fascinated by this concept of “baptizing” the thoughts that come to you during services. Most of struggle to keep focused and see any passing thought as an obstacle. How do you discern between “wandering mind” and thoughts that are substantively connected to spiritual life and worship?

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    1. Hmm I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I really like the idea of “baptizing”. Sometimes these thoughts do kind of feel like a conversation with God, because the ways they are illumined seem to not be from my own understanding. It’s a really good question, I’m going to have to see if I can find any writings on the topic.

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