“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of March thaw, is the Spring.” Aldo Leopold
Years ago in early March, I arose before daybreak and drove north to the Platte River. Somewhere along its banks I found a sheltered area and sat quietly waiting for the sun to break the eastern horizon. The moon had finished her nightly sojourn and the stars seemed to fade into the darkness that now enveloped the river. Blind and unable to distinguish the land around me, my ears became the window to the world I had intruded upon. From the center of the unseen river I heard the gently and peaceful cooing of Sandhill cranes wading on the shallow sandbanks of the river.
The eastern horizon turned red then gave way to a golden yellow as the night surrendered to the sunrise. The warbling noise was incessant and grew louder, more frenetic as the darkness receded into the daylight. The peaceful serenity of the night became tense and the dawn was like a fuse burning toward a moment when the world exploded in a chaos of noise, energy and flight. Thousands of Sandhill cranes erupted from the river, circling higher and higher, declaring with angelic voices the beginning of a new day. The morning’s darkness, the golden sunrise, the gently flowing river would fade away. All of my senses, my thoughts, my own physical body was forgotten as I witnessed this grey cyclone of birds circling above like a vision from God.
This was a deeply spiritual experience which overwhelmed my emotions and my intellect. It was unique and intensely satisfying and left me feeling humble, small and insignificant compared to what God has made. Yet I felt a part of something that was greater and deeper and life-giving. Something that filled me with a greater purpose than my own desires and needs. I wanted to return again, to re-experience this display of majesty and beauty. It was an experience I desired to share and bring others to this dark place on a cold morning so they could witness the bright dawn, the raucous noise of God’s other children and the wonder of God’s creation.
While I have had similar experience in other places, such as the Walk to Emmaus, that cold dark morning along the Platte River was one of the most spiritual events in my life. I realize that it could not be experienced anyplace else yet it has become the benchmark for my worship encounter. Rarely can a worship service create this depth of spiritual fulfillment or awakening yet each effort to worship should lead to the feelings that I experienced on that early morning’s wonderment of God’s work, wanting to experience more and yearning to share with others.
Too often in planning my weekly service, I find myself doing just enough to get by, doing no more than my schedule allows me to do: cross the t’s, dot the i’s and fill in the blanks in the template of a liturgical service. I tell myself there isn’t enough time in the week to plan a worship service that is empowering and deeply felt . Perhaps for Easter or Christmas such a service could be created but not every Sunday. There are Ad board meetings, mentoring sessions, Safe Sanctuary training, Boundary Training sessions, DCoM evaluations, BOOM evaluation, Course of Study assignments before classroom time in Kansas City, Course of Study assignments after classroom time in Kansas City, visitation, Bible study, Men’s Group, youth groups, planning for the county fair’s Gospel Celebration, Food Pantry meetings, Clergy meetings etc, etc.
Please don’t misunderstand. I love doing most of these things. And I understand that all of them are important. It can sometime be hard to judge which should be given priority. Visitation? Youth? Schooling? Counseling? Outreach? Worship planning? District level activities? Conference level business?
Choices need to be made based on resources that are available. How much time is available to do them? Who can I get to help? What will have the greatest impact? Are we overlooking any hidden opportunities or resources? Is the mission of the church clearly defined or poorly defined?
I often hear excuses why people don’t engage in church activities. I accept these because I make excuses myself. (See list above.) Perhaps it is time that both the church and the Pastor ask themselves what is truly important and stop making excuses for not addressing the purpose of God’s church. Each person has their opinion about what has priority. (See list above.) While a church or its Pastor cannot be all things to all people, there are fundamental things which both should accomplish.
Which is why I related my experience about crane watching. Shouldn’t one of the primary goals of worship be the creation of a deeper and richer experience of God’s word? Shouldn’t we come away changed by the experience and wanting more? Shouldn’t it be something we want to tell others about and share? Perhaps we need to explore ways to enrich this experience and not simply dot the i’s and cross the t’s. We need to experience the Grace of God in a fuller and more powerful way.
If the church can experience God’s presence in the way I experienced it on the Platte River, or on my Walk to Emmaus, then perhaps those other obligations that are excuses can become grace-led ministries that enriches God’s church.
“Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:7 NIV)