good brother Hans Fiene has a good piece on thanking Lutheran mothers for... I was struck by one woman who thanked her Lutheran mother for teaching her to sit still in church, even though it was difficult and she was not sure her daughter was getting anything out of the service. In the highest form of praise, she was now teaching her own children to sit still in church, even though it is difficult and she is not sure her children are getting anything out of it... Considering the many trips my own mom took to take me out into the cry room (to make me cry) -- all to teach me to sit still in church, my heart was warmed by her words.
Frankly, I wish that there were more who taught their children (and not a few adults) to sit still in church. I watch every Sunday as a couple of families struggle with this. One is a grandmother bringing her grandson to church and in the beginning it was clearly a struggle but, guess what, he has gotten better. Another is a family with three children very close in age with the ability (as all children have) to incite turmoil among the others. Yet they sit up front on most Sundays and "teach their daughters to sit still in church." But while I am warmed by and greatly appreciate their efforts (and many others I have not mentioned here), I am saddened by the parents who have allowed their kids to get up and leave for any reason what so ever. They run to the drinking fountain at the first hint of thirst and then run to the toilet just to see if maybe they might have to go. They wander the halls to and from the above mentioned destinations and then wander a bit more on their way back. I especially like it when they clippity clop their shoes hard on the floor and then allow the doors to slam behind them. But, who can blame them? It is what they see in the adults around them.
Unless we as a population have grown entirely decrepit over the years and the people who went before us were supermen and superwomen, we have succumbed to the idea that every feeling, desire, or thought has to be acted upon. So God forbid that we should thirst for a drink. Sneak a bottle of water into the sanctuary or a cup of Starbucks (why are there no cup holders in those pews?????). Run to the drinking fountain not once but a dozen times when the whim of thirst passes by. Lord knows, that bladder size has surely shrunk over the years because some of us have to go a dozen times in the hour and fifteen minutes that the liturgy lasts -- and go we must whether the Word of the Lord is being read or prayer being prayed or sermon being preached (not discreetly during a hymn or the offering but when it is all quiet and getting up out of the pew is the most obvious thing you can do).
Sitting still in church is not the issue -- denying yourself for 75-80 minutes so that the focus may be upon the Word and Table of the Lord and the gracious gifts He has made accessible to us there. It is not the sitting still but the discipline that says a moment of my discomfort or inconvenience is not important because Christ is here in our midst offering to me and all the faithful the Kingdom and all its blessings through the means of grace. I am no Nazi looking for kick step uniformity. What I am looking for is the devotion that looks beyond self and the whims and feelings and wants of the moment in order to focus your heart, mind, and body upon Christ. This is what my mom taught me about sitting still in church. [And, by the way, the same goes for concerts and other venues when you are less important than what is going on before you.]
Judging from the comments at the recent Seminary placement services in St. Louis, from the incessant need for some Pastors to ad lib through the entire service (traditional or contemporary), and the preoccupation with dramatic movement in which those same Pastors roam about like a fake lion seeking to devour their hearers with their wit, intelligence, and coolness, well, the same sitting still problem that affects the pews also affects the sedelia.
I was moved the woman who thanked her mom for teaching her to sit still (despite concerns about how hard it is to teach children and the lingering fear that they aren't getting anything out of the service anyway). It is one of the deepest and most profound lessons I learned from my mom. What is going on around you is often more important than you are (or your wants, desires, feelings, and discomfort). I recall my old friend Joel Kuznik telling me about a summer spent in Europe. He was sitting in Notre Dame or Chartes at an organ recital and a woman down the pew was doing her best to stifle a cough. Finally, when she could no longer keep it in, she muffled it into the sleeve of her coat. Between organ pieces, she leaned over to Joel and apologized for the interruption. Granted, we won't be going back to that kind of consideration, but it is not a bad thing to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.... even while in the pew with kids and spouse in tow...