Every week I enter the information about our services into a database I keep on my computer. I use the database to track the music and texts we use in worship (well, and a bunch of other stuff like if we had a baptism and which choirs were in that service). I can use this information to give me ideas for future services or sometimes to keep us from singing I Am Thine, O Lord for 4 weeks in a row. I can, with a couple of clicks, tell you every time in the last nine years we have sung a particular hymn. Or I can tell you that we have not, in that nine years, ever sung "Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit." I'm not sure why, because it's just as beautiful as the title implies. [Editor's note: the second half of the hymn is actually quite lovely. We still won't sing it.]
One side effect of entering all this service information is that I can determine fairly easily how many services we've actually done at this church since I've been here. Just a couple of weeks ago, that number crossed 1000. My first thought was, "Really? How is that possible?" And then I remembered that I am old, as I am constantly reminded by my former youth who are doing things like graduating from college and getting married and such. I'm also reminded by my own children who have insisted on growing up too quickly.
I spent a little time thinking about all those services. I'll confess to you that I don't remember a lot of them. Most of them. The moments I do remember most often aren't profound worshipful moments, either. I remember the Sunday we said goodbye to David Naglee. I jumped the communion rail and hugged him on my way out the door for our music mission. Actually I remember most of the days we have said goodbye to staff members, probably because they were and are close friends, and their departure represented a loss I would grieve (most of them don't return to work here, though I celebrate daily that Janice has rejoined our staff).
I remember the Sunday Arun Jones preached about temptation because it challenged me to acknowledge the ways I yield to it rather than celebrating the ways I don't. I remember the Sunday Janice preached on "Me Too" because it resonated with my natural inclination to collaborate and share rather than work in isolation. I remember the Sunday David Jones talked about our church's need to move boldly forward and accept that the future may look different from the past.
I remember the Sunday the choir sang "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" with extravagant brilliance and the time the youth and chancel choirs together sang "Majesty and Glory of your Name." I remember standing over them with their alleluias washing over, around, and through me--wondering if I had not just been offered a foretaste of the Glory Divine.
I remember my first Sunday, standing in the loft and wondering when they were serving the popcorn because the seats were theater seats.
But those are momentary memories. I can quote the movies Top Gun, The Princess Bride, and Airplane from beginning to end, but I can't remember a single service from start to finish. One thousand and three services. I can't remember even one. This was really starting to bother me. We spend a great deal of time each week preparing for worship. The anthems. The prayers. The hymns. The readings. The sermon. Hundreds of person-hours for a single hour of worship, all seemingly wasted on a feeble mind that can't remember.
Lisa and I have now been married more than 16 years. During that time we've had countless conversations about a lot of different things. Some have been easy and fun. Some have been difficult. Such is married life. Still, because of those conversations, I am a better man than I was when we started out. I'm more aware of my surroundings. I wash my hands more. I listen better. I pay more attention to what people are saying with their eyes and arms and bodies. I don't give the server such a hard time at the restaurant, and I do give the server a better tip. I NEVER EVER combine a birthday and Christmas gift. [Editor's Note: I did that once and only once.]
You know what? I can't remember very many of those conversations in detail. I couldn't quote any of them to you. Not one. But across the years, conversations with Lisa have sustained me. They have supported me when I needed to be supported. They have challenged me when I needed to be challenged. Communication has been a key part of a relationship that has in many ways defined who I am today, a relationship I would not trade for anything in the world. It's the relationship that is important, not the words along the way.
Maybe that's true of worship too. Our relationship with the Divine depends on regular communication. We certainly can do that on our own in prayer and meditation, but I've found in my experience that I encounter God most often in worship with others. The words and the music support me when I need support and challenge me when I need to be challenged. And even though I couldn't walk you through a single one of them from start to finish, each encounter has drawn me into closer relationship with God, deepening my connection and communion with the Divine. That's a second relationship that has in many ways defined who I am today--another I treasure and would not trade.