Eighteen months ago, we started going to a new church. As with any congregation, there were new habits and traditions to learn and new ways of seeing to understand. We’re now into our second time through the liturgical cycle in this new place but even now, there are moments when I find myself tripping up a little and feeling out of step. A couple of weeks ago, I spotted a notice in the order of service, stating simply that the Gloria would be omitted during Lent as usual. Oh dear, I thought, how was I going to explain this to Plum?
(A small sidestep here to explain that the names I use for my children on the Messy Table are just nicknames. I picked up the habit when I started writing about faith and family in the Presbyterian Record because I wanted to offer my kids a small degree of privacy. A gimmick and an easy one, but it’s become a habit. My son Plum is three and loves to dress as a lion, Blue is eight and he’s a cheerful ukulele player, and the bookworm Beangirl will be turning 11 in June. Their dad I call the Spouse).
Giving up the Gloria
The reason I worried about the Gloria and Plum is that this is his song. Every week in this new church, we sing the same words to the same tune and he loves it. He just glows. Whether it is the simplicity or the repetition that appeals to him, I don’t know, but everyone around can see how incandescent he gets whenever the Gloria starts. Learning the words and the tune was one of our family’s first marks of belonging in this new congregation, and now we use it as a table grace at home with our little Plum belting it out at top volume, brimming with praise. And now, we’ve got weeks and weeks ahead without the Gloria.
I’ve heard of other congregations doing something similar. Some churches will change their sanctuary decorations for Lent or set aside the word Alleluia, even physically hiding the word to be returned again with celebration on Easter Sunday. Carolyn C. Brown writes about this habit on her blog “Worshipping with Children” and also in her excellent book Sharing the Easter Faith with Children. She puts it this way: “For children, the reason for this is simply that Lent is a time for thinking and getting ready for Easter. During Advent we wait for the presents that come at Christmas. During Lent we wait for all the ‘Alleluias!’ that come with Easter.”
Reflecting for Lent
Lent is a challenging season for children and families. The abstract concepts of repentance and reflection are hard for little ones to grasp, and it is understandable that “giving something up” has become the shorthand for faithfully following Christ’s journey to the cross. Traditionally, the goal of abstaining was to create space for deeper focus on God and also perhaps to strengthen our discipline of obedience, but I can’t understand fasting from praise.
Even in the middle of his desert temptations, Jesus remembered that it is written “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
Praise helps us to redirect our heart’s focus. Maybe this is a little like redirecting the focus of a small and cranky child – when my heart is restless and full of squabble, I need to shift focus away from the smallness of self and towards something so very much bigger and better. I need to unclench my heart, turn away from distraction and temptation and reach out instead to the goodness of God. As Augustine taught, our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.
Maybe, in another season or another year, I will find a nourishing reason behind omitting the Gloria, but this year, our family will keep singing together. And if Lent is to be a season of reflection, let’s take on Don Postema’s metaphor of the moon. “As the moon reflects the sun . . . so the people of God are to reflect God” (Space for God).
This is an image that we can understand around our family table. God is great, so we sing great songs. God is love, so we love. God is worthy of praise, and so we praise.
Glory to God.
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