Tag Archives: church

Day eight: Ash Wednesday, take two.

I woke up sick as a dog on Ash Wednesday.

Shaky and achey, I went back and forth between shivering and sweating, curled in a miserable ball on my clammy sheets. My head throbbed, my mouth tasted like asphalt, and my throat was parched. It was unpleasant.

I was heartbroken that I missed the Ash Wednesday chapel service at work. However, my body tends to fight off sickness pretty quickly, so I was well enough to attend Ash Wednesday service that night at my own church. “Thank goodness,” I thought. “Now it’ll really feel like lent has begun.”

It… didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely. We sang songs and said prayers and I left with an ash cross on my forehead. But it didn’t really feel like Ash Wednesday. My church, which I began attending several months ago when I moved to Chicago, prefers a pretty contemporary worship style. Most of the time, I love it. But for lent, I wanted something different.

Tonight was Holden Evening Prayer.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a Holden evening prayer service, but my word, if it isn’t the most beautiful thing inside the four walls of a church. The music is beautiful, the words are beautiful, the simple ritual is beautiful. I can’t even explain why I love it, but I do. And it resonated more with me tonight than it ever has before.

A few months ago, the Magnificat of Mary was sung to me by a woman I very much admire. Listening to her sing, I was floored. Mary came alive in this woman, became a real flesh-and-blood person who had swollen ankles and morning sickness and carried the messiah. She became so real to me, more than just a character. Advent itself became so real, and I spent the remaining weeks leading up to Christmas with a new and amazing sense of longing. Which, as they say, is what Advent is all about. Finally, it was real.

I didn’t go to church much (or at all) in college, so I hadn’t heard the Holden evening prayer in a number of years. When I heard it tonight, it was like everything came back. The reverent evening services, the candles, my mother’s voice leading the call-and-response part of the evening, the congregation’s single voice responding, the way the music made me feel. I didn’t understand at the time that I was feeling God’s presence.

Now I do.

I felt it tonight. I felt it in the people around me, in my two friends who led service, in the beautiful, simple music of the Holden evening prayer.

Come and light our hearts anew.

Let my prayer rise up like incense before you.

God of mercy, hold us in love.

It stops my heart.

The calendar Ash Wednesday didn’t feel like much to me.

Today, my real Ash Wednesday, felt like everything.


Day five: eagle-eye worship.


I officially earned my keep at church by agreeing to run the slides for worship this morning. I camped out in the sweltering balcony with my friend James, who was running the sound board. Check out this sweet (blurry) set-up.


My job was fairly simple: switch the slide. At crucial points in the sermon, worship songs, communion, I clicked a few keys and made sure the correct image appeared on the screen. Other than that, I was free to exchange snarky comments with James and enjoy the service.

Now, I’ve never been much of a back-stager at church. I’m usually right there in the pews with everyone else. Being a pastor’s kid, I was occasionally roped into serving communion or teaching Vacation Bible School, but the technical side of church was never my job. This experience of being physically removed from the rest of the congregation was completely new to me. It also answered a question I’d had for a long time.

As a kid, I always kind of wondered what we, as a congregation, looked like to an outsider. We sang and recited prayers and crossed ourselves with no discernible audience. Yes, we were singing for and worshipping God, but still. What would a passerby, a random audience member, think of our performance?

Today, I was that audience. An outsider, separated from my fellow churchgoers by a laptop and a few flights of stairs. I did sing along and listen to the sermon enough to switch the slides on time and sneak down to take communion. But for the most part, I was free to watch.

I didn’t see anything particularly earth-shattering. But that’s the amazing part. It didn’t matter. It didn’t need to be earth-shattering or mind-blowing, because it just needed to be real. And it was.

We’re just a group of humble people in a simple room. All we have to offer is our togetherness and our voices, and with that we can produce the most beautiful, genuine music. We certainly wouldn’t land a record deal, and we number too few to really bring down the house, but the one who’s listening doesn’t care about that. God, our most enthusiastic, team spirit-y fan, is throwing roses on the stage and begging for an encore. We’re giving him the gift of our love, our praises, our humble voices, and that’s all he wants to hear.

It’s a beautiful thing to see, even from the less-than-holy vantage point of an overheated balcony, and I’ll be glad to see it again. But I’m looking forward to next week, when it’s not my turn to run the computer and I get to sit among my fellow worshippers again. Because now that I’ve seen how good the show looks from the audience, I want to lend my own humble voice to the choir. We put on a good show. I want to be a part of it.