12/24/77 — A city sanctuary with blood-red carpet, dark-wood pews, stenciled walls, Tiffany windows, pensive pipe organ in the balcony behind, little girl full of Christmas Eve dinner and the excitement of the oddity of being in her church at night. As if this weren’t bliss enough, the music changes, and a woman the little girl knows from regular life begins a slow ballet down the aisle from narthex to chancel, swaying in her black ankle-length skirt, black slippers, black hair loose down her back, dancing with . . . what??? . . . a live baby lifted above her head. Oh! As she slowly covers the full length of the massive space, she sways through her choreography and gently tosses the baby up even higher above her head, and back into her waiting hands. Oh my. ~~~~~
That’s an image that sticks with an 8-year-old. That night, I just loved the dance itself, and loved the buzz it sent through the congregation as we collectively comprehended the actual infant (borrowed from trusting, fellow congregants), this live nativity of motion and artistry. In retrospect, I celebrate the God who allows such expression, such broad worship, such stretching of definitions of appropriate or orthodox. And in retrospect, the adult in me celebrates that even as a child, I knew something about the life of that dancing, worshiping woman — the wrecked-ness and the beauty both. I love that I knew a bit of it then, so that I can appreciate now that she was loved in that place by a Great Big Broad God and by God’s people, and that she was bold to love us and her God with the gift of her wildly transparent worship.
This memory of an extraordinary worship flooded back some recent Sunday in a moment of seemingly ordinary worship. When there’s a new Nathan or Rebekah song in the bulletin (and there often is – like each month!), sometimes lyrics will have been finessed and tweaked between print deadline and Sunday services. This was one of those Sundays when a word sung didn’t match a word typed, and it delighted me as it always does. Really, how not-so-ordinary is that? How amazing to worship a God who welcomes the moving parts of right-now worship, the experiments, the very gaps where God’s spirit slips in and around and through the sanctuary space and service designed to exalt him?
A great God, who gives us covering to worship with such freedom! To celebrate. Each time a non-traditional object is placed or word is written or sung, it is God’s invitation to define divinity more broadly—and of course our expressions never will begin to touch how broad God is. Paper airplanes and beeswax and blooms, science fiction and poetry, industrial light creations and bottle caps, ojos and sculptures, sound and silence, pennants, signs, and wonders . . . what will our 8-year-olds remember about ways in which God chose to move among us here?
-Cindy Ragsdale, 2014