I went to church this morning.
John August Swanson
I didn’t preach. I didn’t lead worship. I didn’t have any part in the planning of the children’s program. Today, I just went to church. I had some coffee and walked across our beautiful city to find a seat in one of the back pews of Green Memorial AME Zion Church. I needed to worship. I was so ready to lose myself in the experience of worship. It’s easy to do at a place like Green Memorial. It’s easy to sense how the presence of God pulses through the hearts and minds of the people in this upstairs room, but it was also the theme woven through the service. We were invited to make worship our destination as the wise people did so long ago.
So I did. I joined in the verse of every hymn. I listened for God to speak to me. I prayed for the ability to hear God better. As I listened, I kept hearing the push toward joy. It felt like God was whispering this word in my ear. Or maybe it was the woman next to me that took my hand and swayed with me. I wasn’t feeling particularly joyful. I haven’t been felt joyful in some time. Apparently, I seem really positive. All of the time. That’s nice. But it’s not true. I can be pretty gloomy. In the African Methodist Episcopal liturgical tradition, there is a lot of space for the Holy Spirit even though there is an order of worship. With the rich history of this tradition, and the awareness that other liturgical traditions didn’t serve those people, there is also space to claim that life is hard and sometimes unfair. Still, God never changes. God is always there. And this is the source of joy.
But, I’m not so sure that God doesn’t change as much as we are. That’s what I kept wondering in the end of that pericope about the wise people. They go home by another way, but it might not be because of God’s providence. It just might be that they wise people had terrifying dreams. It might be that simple. It was just a bad night. So, they re-charted their path. They found another way home. I think that decision affects God. I think God is so engaged in our lives that that change in direction actually does change God. For me, that is the source of joy. God changes with me. God is present in each shift I make. God is stretching as wide and far as I am. We’re doing it together. But, let’s be honest. I’m not very good at the joy thing. It’s not easy for me to clothe myself in an attitude of gratitude. More likely, the mere suggestion of such a disposition will make me roll my eyes. Still, I want to try to find that possibility more. I want to try to seek more joy in this year. I want that to be my focus — and I’m so glad I got to worship my way into that possibility this morning. Just in that fact, I find myself grateful. It’s a good start.