(Photo of screaming human newborn courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
"A church with a crying baby is a church that's alive, with a promise of tomorrow." --Greg Kandra
My Roman Catholic friend Fran always posts some really thought provoking pieces on her blog and her Facebook wall, and I have to admit I read this one a little shamefacededly.
You see, I used to be one of the biggest complainers about screaming babies and unruly toddlers and precocious but somewhat obnoxious small children in church. I used to sound a lot like the woman in the story Fran posted.
I've since changed my mind.
Now, I will put one caveat in there. People, in general, should be considerate of their neighbors when a child is inconsolable, and it's probably not going to endear adults to other adults in a parish when your child runs around doing things that are distracting. But I've decided those are best handled as teaching moments. I simply decided about two years ago that I no longer had a desire to be the parish equivalent of the person who stands on the porch and yells, "You kids get off my damn yard!"
You see, first of all, I realized it wasn't my yard.
I've thought about all the various ways churches traumatize kids. I've thought about the ways churches traumatized me and others around me, that couldn't help but be a factor in my two decades of un-church-ed-ness. The two pieces I've linked are both about the Roman Catholic church, but that's just coincidence. I've seen it happen in plenty of Protestant churches, too, right down to having been sitting in the pews as a guest with a friend at a church where someone stopped the service and informed the congregation that "Satan is making that child cry, so you can't hear the Word of God that I'm trying to tell you. Get thee behind me, Satan!" I looked over at that mother, and I swear, there was fear in her eyes.
What's more relevant to the Eucharist than a live demonstration of how we all feel at times to the broken-ness of the world?
The longer I rediscover myself as a person of faith, the more I am into inclusiveness. The more I get to know our parishioners with small children, the more I think about how harried and unpredictable their lives are. I'm sure even Mary had to deal with a fussy baby Jesus--I don't think it was like all the Renaissance paintings all the time (probably almost never, in fact.) That family probably needs my prayers, not my irritation.
I've also come to realize if those things knock me off my feed at church, it doesn't say much about the solidity of my faith. If my faith and worship experience is so fragile I can't stay connected through a little noise or activity, that doesn't speak much to how strong I feel in my faith.
Also, if we come after the noisy kids, who's next? The people whose tattoos peek out from behind their neck? The people in flip-flops? The people who smell a little ripe? The people who can't carry a tune in a five gallon bucket but sing louder than a foghorn?
No doubt, when I'm acolyte, I dearly love for things to work liturgically perfectly. But I have also come to love those moments of imperfection. I have come to discover how they are opportunities for prayers I did not plan to think or speak. I neither can control the Eucharist nor break it. I can only play my role in it and trust to God for the rest.
But ultimately, what did it for me one day, that changed my heart forever about screaming babies was I was at church one day with one, on a day my own heart was feeling quite friable. I was slumped over in my pew with that "I am not looking at any of you, I am looking at the floor, don't bother me," look.
I looked at that baby, and thought to myself, "I wish I could cry like that in church right like that, this very minute...because I'm feeling pretty miserable at the moment."
Oh, I've cried in church before. But we are talking "squawling at the top of your lungs, so loud and long you end up gagging on your own spit" kind of crying here.
I thought back to the snippy remarks I'd said over the years about people controlling their own kids (in that superior way only someone with no kids can do) and realized I was a total putz of the highest order (yeah, I know putz is Yiddish for the male member but it literally means "decoration" and the implication is "useless decoration" in old German.)
It was not a good day. I was heartsick from my wounds, I was shamed over my piety being a useless decoration, not the deep and real thing I wished it was, and I was jealous that this baby could cry in a way I only wished I could. There was only one thing to do--change my crappy attitude about it.
So I mugged at the baby. Made some quiet goofy noises and faces right there in church in the middle of the sermon. I silently prayed for the baby and the mom and the church family we have that I love so much, and suddenly felt...well...grateful.
What'dya know...that baby cocked her head and started slowing down her crying! More faces. More improvement. Pretty soon she was sucking on her pacifier and no longer was so upset.
In the years that followed that moment, I've found new places for acceptance and forgiveness. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am no saint. I still have a volcanic temper at times. But I have found that the more things I remove from the list as "no longer all that important," the volcano mostly sleeps.
I've come to believe in the live playing out of our own vulnerabilities as humans to be sanctified things in themselves. Crying with intent is a sign of life. It's a sign the Good News of the Gospel will be heard and carried forward. Those are just new voices trying it on!