Thoughts on Reverence — I Kid You Not
Our ward has been talking a lot about reverence lately. I am of a mixed mind about this. The working definition for reverence seems to be “be quiet and think of Jesus.” They want reverence, but they also want children in the meetings. Hello! Children and quiet? When did that work?
I think that having children in meetings and still expecting reverent quiet are mutually exclusive…like the commands not to eat the fruit but still to go forth and multiply.
Some of my friends who aren’t Mormon comment that they stopped going to this or that church because it was too noisy in their meetings. This was not in reference to amplified praise choirs with drum sets and electric guitars, but to the presence of children. Dare I ever invite these friends to a Sunday morning at our meetings which sometimes sound like the Amazon jungle?
Alas, I don’t think there’s any chance on the horizon that our church, like the one I grew up in, will have a simultaneous Junior Worship Service designed for the interest, capacities, and learning abilities of the lambkins of the fold. To me it is one of the mysteries of the church. But, given that contemporary LDS policy expects “family togetherness”, what strategies work? In my day of child-herding, a steady stream of cheerios and plenty of books, puzzles and silent widgets got us through their upbringing.
I believe that most parents try hard to keep their kids as quiet as humanly possible given the challenges. What really drives me nuts are the parents who are inured to the noise their kids make and sit there sweetly bobbing affirmation to the speakers while their kids are tearing each other’s hair out, crying and cursing.
But for those parents who try hard and mostly successfully to manage their kids, does that feel like reverence to them? Well, it’s a kind of white knuckled reverence I suppose. But not really the kind of “profound, adoring, awed respect” that the dictionary uses to define the word.
My best strategy is to continue to keep the posse around me as quiet as possible so as not to disturb people around us. Beyond that, I have let go of the expectation of Sacrament Meetings in a ward with young children as a place that will inspire or promote reverence. I love the relative stillness of the passing of the Sacrament. That can be the one sacred time in the 70 minute stretch. Beyond that, though, any moments of awe and hushed respect that DO come are all the more wonderful because I am not counting on them.
I have come to believe that reverence has got to be developed from the inside out if it is going to be satisfying at all. And it certainly can’t be limited to a chunk of time on Sundays. Learning to find an inner swell of respectful awe in a meeting teeming with tots is a lifetime’s challenge.
Meanwhile, I know that reverence of a rich and layered kind is not always quiet. Read Psalm 98 if you’re looking for a lively one – with brass instruments, no less. Psalm 46 is another one loaded with noise – of crashing waves and mass destruction of all kind – but pierced through with the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.”