A small hand grabs mine and pulls forward. "Let's go see the colors, daddy." We head down the children's hallway, his staccato steps echoing as we head for the stairs. When we get upstairs, we make a few turns, and find ourselves in the sanctuary. Jim runs down the aisle, up the stairs of the stage, and to the vibrant stained-glass windows that cover the curved wall behind the pulpit.
This has been Jim's tradition, his ritual every Sunday at church for over a year and a half. Before we can leave for lunch, Jim needs to see the colors, the fish, and baby Jesus.
The colors are the different pieces of stained glass that occupy the corner of a window depicting the teachings and ministry of Jesus.
The fish are found in the window showing John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. There are five fish. One belongs to Jim, one to his little brother Liam, one to his mom, one to me, and his four grandparents share the fifth.
Baby Jesus is obviously Baby Jesus. We always finish with him. We sit in front of the window. He identifies Mary and Joseph. Then he asks questions. Sometimes he asks questions about the window. Sometimes he asks questions about the random things that go through a four year old's head. Sometimes he asks about the dead bug we saw on the floor one week. Other times his questions are sneaky profound.
Then we go to lunch and go home.
That is what he does every Sunday we're at church and I love it. I love the fact that we're a part of a church that lets a preschooler wander on the stage and right up to a beautiful work of art which is a great source of pride in the congregation. I love that the sanctuary is not just a utilitarian space for music and a speaker, but that the walls itself beautifully tell the story of God in scripture. I love that my son is enraptured by that story already even if all that he knows right now is colors, fish, and baby Jesus.
I love our church deeply and I frequently leave there thankful for our weekly time of worship and fellowship; just like today. Yet I admit that there are times when I wonder why we go to church Sunday after Sunday, why we stand and sing the hymns, why we go through the rituals. We all have those rituals. Even the most cutting edge church has ritual. Sometimes I wonder if we are just going through the motions.
Yet I watch Jim clamber around the sanctuary (and now his little brother toddle after him). You would think that he would be bored with the colors, fish, and baby Jesus by now. But he's not. He is still excited to go in that sanctuary each Sunday. He still loves it.
I can't read my four year old's mind. Trust me, I would pay good money to figure that out. Yet I cannot help but learn from the way he tackles (not literally...usually) his time in the sanctuary. He goes about it with purpose and energy. When I do the same in church, I tend to get more out of it. When I pay close attention, I learn, I am challenged, and I grow little by little.
The other thing that I've realized is that the ritual becomes a part of me. When I look back on Jim at this age, one of the first things I'll think about is how he loved going to the sanctuary after church. It's just such a regular part of who he is. When I am connected to the ritual of church, it becomes a part of me. And the more those things--thanking God for scripture, welcoming those around me, listening, singing praise to God for gifts--become a part of me, the better.