There and Back Again: Holy, Holy, Holy

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Chicago. 2009.

Sunday Flooding

Sunday in church I cried. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last, I don’t think. But this past Sunday, as our congregation sang “Holy, Holy, Holy,” tears rolled down my face as if I were chopping onions. Or grieving.

I was grieving.

As a child, my sister and I attended Sunday School while our parents worshiped in the sanctuary. One Sunday, when I was quite small, I found myself in the sanctuary with my mother. I’m sure my father was there, too, and my big sister. But what I remember is sitting beside my mom.

It felt dark inside, and very, very big, like the downtown movie theater where I couldn’t wear my pjs, as I could at the drive-in. It looked like a place that should smell musty, but it didn’t. Baskets of lavender flowers decorated the place in front where the lectern stood. Streams of blue, yellow, and red sunshine flowed through the stained-glass windows and puddled on the carpet inside. People entered and took seats all around us, sitting quietly. I smoothed my blue flowered dress–my favorite dress–and studied my black patent leather shoes as my feet dangled from the wooden bench. I remember being glad the bench had a backrest.

I turned to my mother to ask a question. She raised a finger to her lips with that I mean it look on her face. “Worship begins when we sit down,” she whispered. Her warning made me nervous. Worship? I was there to worship? What was worship? How would I know what to do? I edged in closer to my mother’s protective side.

A man in a robe stood in the front and said something in grown-up words that I couldn’t follow.

And then, and then….

Music flooded the temple as the organist began to play. The choir rose, like a wave above the sea, to its feet. My mother took a book from the little shelf built into the back of the bench in front of us, thumbed through its pages. Everyone stood. Mom stood. So I stood too.

She held that book down low, tracing each word with her fingers as we began to sing:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! 

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; 

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! 

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

And as we sang the words, the organ welling and the choir streaming and my mother’s sweet high-school-choir voice pouring out from her beside me, I wasn’t afraid any more. I still wasn’t sure exactly what “worship” was, but if this singing was part of it, I was going to like it. 

Of all my childhood memories of church, this one stands vividly above the rest.

Not long ago we took our seven-year-old grandson, Ayden, to church. I bent down, held the hymnal, and traced the words for him as we sang. And I remembered a little girl in black patent shoes and a blue flowered dress, beside her mother, following that trustworthy fingertip from word to word. 

I think I caught a glimpse of her, standing close to her mother. 

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! 2 I will praise the LORD while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. 

Psalm 146:1-2 (NASB) 

This post came to me after I read my friend Jennifer Lee’s post, Why We Cry When We Sing. So I’m linking up for Charity Singleton’s fine project, There and Back Again. I hope you’ll visit both blogs.

There and Back Again