Reading wrong

A fellow faculty member said to me the other day, “These kids really don’t like to worship.” I understand how that may appear so.

We have mandatory chapel once a week at my school. The speaker is usually my bud, Jeremy. He does a good job. Most of the kids listen to what he shares. We also sing a bit. Well, a few of the kids sing with the band of students that play. Most just stand there. Even many of the kids who sing their lungs out at youth group just stand there. Obviously, we have not discerned the dynamic that facilitates freedom and worship during chapel. But, that doesn’t mean the students do not like to worship. On the contrary, I think that it is one of their favorite, even if undiscovered, things. So, in bible class, I try to find ways to facilitate worship amongst us all: the lovers and the leery. It’s a tough assignment. Yesterday, I tried to do so for the first time during this section of bible class, as many of the students had requested such.  I learned a lot.

It’s always hard to discern the best posture and mode the first time that a group gathers for such. Do I put them close together? far apart? Will they want to see one another? Will that make them nervous? Should I put the words on a screen in the front of the room? Will that be more help or crutch? What will help break up the thousands of fears that float through the minds of teenagers?

In the class are some of the students (people actually) who know me best in the world, we’ve been everywhere and through everything together, we’ve asked one another all the ugly questions and screamed at and to God often, together. We are pretty dang comfortable “out there” with one another. Then there are those who have sung thousands of songs with me, but have never been out so far, with anyone, far as I can tell. And then there are those who seemed a bit terrified even sitting in a darkened room, with music blaring – it helps those of us who don’t sing as well as others, out of earshot of any other.

And one last group, those who have not spent much time in such a place…but they are made for it, nonetheless. They are those instantly addicted, as am I and my comrades.

I spread them out, cranked my speakers and filled that auditorium up with sound. Some of us walked and prayed and sang, some of us stood and sang, some of us sat and sang, some of us stared ahead like deer, seemingly terrified. It was okay. But nothing like I’ve seen it even among novices and the unacquainted. I listened and watched and tried to discern what? what needed to give?

When the final bell rang, I turned down the music and motioned so that all, who desired, could leave. Many stayed on, still. Breathing a little more of the better air. Several whispered, “Do we have to leave?”

I don’t think that I got the dynamic right. Maybe bringing us in close will be better for these. Something seemed amiss…some facet that would have  facilitated flow and trust escaped me. ( I have some ideas for next time.) But, I really think that these kids do like to worship. I think we adults read them wrong on that. Maybe I think it because the last questions that the students asked me as they left was, “Can we do it again? Can we do it everyday?”



Filed under observation

2 responses to “Reading wrong

  1. In chapel, besides the things you mentioned, it might be worth keeping in mind that some people are just naturally quiet worshippers — physically and vocally; not because they aren’t engaged, but simply because that’s the way God made them, and they might have to find a way to worship… quietly. I spent a lot of time wondering about this in high school, since I found that it’s hard for me to pray and be loud at the same time; it the music is very loud either my eyes glaze over and my brain shuts off from overstimulation, or I pray lots of “Lord have mercy,” while hoping that an end to the noise is part of the mercy; and it’s especially hard to pray while in motion. It’s not that I don’t like noise and movement — I remember a carillon I especially loved to listen to, and would go to nearly every performance at the county fair for a week because of the way the bells rang through my entire body, not just my ears — it’s just that the music was (still is) entirely external to me: I can’t pray it. And I probably look slightly catatonic. And sometimes I have to leave for a breather or put my head down. I don’t know what I looked like in high school, but probably like a really awkward deer.

    But I do love to worship. We had an all night vigil last night, just reading the Psalms in the front of the church, and it was fantastic. The prayers are fantastic, the hymns are fantastic, even the strange lines like “we offer Thee, better than monied taxes, Orthodox theological sayings” are amusingly fantastic. Now I usually “just stand there,” very still, very quiet (every once in a while I sing, but then it’s harder to pray), and stare at an icon (or the inside of my eyelids if there’s something distracting between myself and the icon). We don’t have instruments, but instead sing with Byzantine and Russian chant, which I like because it’s lovely, solemn, and because I don’t feel obliged to move. A person probably couldn’t tell by looking at me that I “like to worship,” but might be able to tell because I show up early, stay late, and go to church whenever I possibly can.

    I wonder if there are some kids like that — in which case, rather than getting them to sing more or move more or feel more, would they do better at keeping with the stillness, and learning to be internally attentive?

    • That may be exactly so. The day before I played soft music, with lots of instrumental parts, Michael Gungor’s new stuff. Just spaced them out and left them to the relative quiet. Most seemed to like that as well. I certainly do. I so hear what you are suggesting. It may well be true with many of the students. I will try to give that segment much “good” ground for expression as well. I too am an introvert, and I like stillness and quiet and silence, so very much. I would go the contemplative route most of the time save so many that just can’t be still or sleep on me when I do. I appreciate your help. I am certainly not wanting or trying to facilitate performance in worship, you know, fakeness to some arbitrary religious standard that has no real meaning for the worshipper. I see a desire for genuine encounter and communion within most all of those in the class. I’m just trying to find a way to help them all develop in those things. ( In all honesty, this post is mostly about adult blindness to what is present spiritually in all of the students.) Love what you did at the all night vigil. We have a worship experiment – weekend retreat- coming up. I’m going to have to find a way to incorporate a bit of that! Please keep helping as you will, Molly. I value your counsel.


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