Sunday began shortly before six this morning, when Anselm bounded into our bedroom and announced that it was time to give me his mother’s day card. And then Perpetua wanted to give me her card, of course, because she wants to do whatever her big brother does, and then presents, and then we all rolled out of bed for the usual Sunday morning half-routine half-chaos that eventually sees us out the door on our way to church. It seems to have gotten lush and green around here overnight, and the fog this morning made our ten-minute drive enchanting. Perpetua sang “Jesus loves me” most of the way there (tunelessly, but with gusto) while Anselm anxiously corrected her on all the words she pronounced wrong. All in all, it was a pretty typical morning.
Except for this: I couldn’t speak. We went away this past week and I managed to leave my voice back at the beach. Well, I can whisper. Sort of. It’s more of a croak. In effect, I’m voiceless — which is a strange sort of thing to be when you’re driving to church. Our liturgy is pretty participatory: there’s a fair bit of moving around, and a lot of singing and praying and formal responses to things. And while losing my voice doesn’t affect my ability to sit, kneel, stand, or cross myself, it did pretty well limit my physical participation in the service to those things.
It feels strange to stand in a pew and just listen when everyone around you is singing. It feels strange to listen to the scripture readings without joining the rest of the congregation in the “thanks be to God!” afterwards. It feels strange to kneel to pray without being able to complete the congregational halves of the set versicles and responses.
But what surprised me about going to church without speaking was that it also felt beautiful. Not being able to sing or speak meant that I was able to listen in a new way, without hearing my own voice at the forefront. I could hear the rumble of a hundred-plus voices praying the Lord’s prayer together. I could hear the full force of the congregation’s voices soaring to “Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord!” And it reminded me of one of the beauties of corporate worship, which is precisely that it is corporate: it’s not just about me and God, but it’s about me, and you, and him, and her, and them, and us, and God. It’s about the whole family of believers. Not to mention the great cloud of witnesses and the angelic hosts! And on the days when I can’t sing or speak or pray out loud, it’s the songs and prayers of the great family that lift me up. Perhaps I should stand voiceless in church more often.