Our church keeps the kids of all ages with their parents until after we sing. We sing first, we all sing together, and then the kids leave. It lasts about 15 minutes, but it’s become one of my favorite times of the service.
I’m not bashing churches that have kids’ church through the whole experience, by the way. Our church is really new and pretty small, so it works for us. I imagine that larger churches who did the same thing we do would experience nothing short of mass chaos as hundreds of kids evacuated the sanctuary, running through all areas of the church, re-enacting a scene from Lord of the Flies.
At our church, though, we do this. The band plays, the people sing. The children sing. But with my daughter, there’s one problem: she can’t read. Not fast enough to sing along, anyway. I still want her to be able to be part of the service, though, so I sing for her. She still likes to be held, even though she’s getting bigger (if she’s 15 and ways 150 pounds and still wants to be held, I’ll at least make the effort), so she’s close to my mouth. When I sing, she can hear me. Sometimes she lays her head on my shoulder, sometimes she lays back and listens to me. Always, I make sure I sing loud enough for her to hear.
I sing differently when I’m holding her. I tend to attempt harmonies, even in songs I don’t know so well, even if nobody really hears me. I don’t do that when she’s listening, though. I sing the straight melody, because I want her to hear the song without confusion later. So if she hears it again, she’ll recognize it. She learns a few songs that way, I hear her singing them in the car.
There’s something to this, spiritually. Zephaniah 3:17 describes God as doing this: “He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” It’s described in a moment of victory, God standing behind the faithful and responding with a song. There’s another moment, though, that I think more adequately describes this moment to me, in Romans 8:26. “We don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” This is the same picture as my daughter and I: she doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know because knowing isn’t available to her. She can’t read, so in place of her using the route everyone else is taking to worship, I take her there myself. My words become her song. We share it because I am singing it for the both of us.
I have never been in a service where speaking in tongues was used, but this is how I understand working from people who have. Sometimes, we really just don’t know what to say. Instead of praying some trite prayer, delivering some soliloquy that we know God knows is just hot air, wouldn’t it be better to just be silent? Just let the Spirit move in and around us? Allow the unspoken language of the divine to become our whole conversation? It’s bigger than us to start with, what hope to we have of getting any closer than that? Than letting God do the talking?
Believers who don’t have tongues as part of their religious experience need not feel left out. The spirit is close to all of us, and each of us experiences it in different ways. Just as the spirit came at Pentecost, so it shows up every time we show up. We may not see flames of fire, but the same power lives among us. It’s odd that it sometimes shows up as silence.
I take comfort in that. Even when I don’t know what to say, God says it for me. It certainly takes the pressure off me not to mess up the speech.