A few years ago, the mother of a little girl with cerebral palsy contacted the New York City Ballet and asked if they could run a workshop for her daughter. The little girl loved music and dancing and all things related to ballet - and the mum figured if her daughter felt this way, then others with physical limitations probably did too.
The ballet school factored in the complications of wheelchairs, uncoordinated movements, muscle spasms and leg braces and said Yes. The professional dancers designed a programme, publicised it, ran the workshop and got the kids to put on a show for the parents afterwards.
The parents obviously loved it.
Some of these kids could hardly walk, but for that show on that particular evening - these children were ballerinas.
The parents didn't sit in the audience to critique - to notice the flaws or judge the glaring lack of technical competence or physical perfection. The beauty in the performance ran way deeper and overwrote all that stuff. The little girl's mum looked at her daughter on stage and saw a dancer.
So... church is back on after 5 1/2 months of lockdown and like everything in the post Covid world, traces of the virus have seeped into the corners here, altering the way we do things for the foreseeable future. There's booking seats in advance, 2m social distancing, sitting in your family bubbles, wearing masks, hand gel dispensers at every doorway, a one way system throughout the building - all the usual stuff. Oh - and the Not Singing.
Not Singing is kind of the default in most places. You can get through many situations in life complying with this one without even noticing.
Not Singing in church though? That's kind of a bigger deal. It's notable and disorientating - even when you accept the rationale, have got your head round the theology, read a few articles and done virtual church for so long that any semblance or corporate togetherness would be welcome with no problem whatsoever. (Although getting unexpectedly emotional at Dance Monkey performed live should have been a giveaway).
As guidelines stand, for now only the worship leader can sing and we can participate by clapping, raising hands, kneeling, thinking, praying, silently singing - any way we choose to except to join in and sing. This is fundamentally weird and feels wrong.
But it's the way things are just now. And God is still God and there's stuff to learn.
• You can worship worship, and that's idolatry. I don't want to do that.
• In other parts of the world, people of all faiths are oppressed and tortured for their beliefs. We have freedom in this country. We enjoy benefits other people can only dream about. Recognise it and pray for those who are genuinely persecuted.
• The worship leader is like our appointed representative. Our voice. Like someone you'd vote into public office. I can listen to him/her and make their words my own. I can be grateful that they're singing them for me when I can't. (Although watching telly as an armchair politician and getting cross when they're ballsing things up isn't half as frustrating as agreeing with someone but being unable to verbalise it in real time. Isn't that weird?)
• God doesn't need volume. He senses worship from the soul. I don't know how that works or what it even really sounds like. I doubt we have the bandwidth to comprehend it. I Only know that if parents of kids with profound, physical impairments can look at them and see dancers, God can decode the silence of censored songs and hear them at whatever deafening volume we mean them.
• Angels are probably pretty busy right now.
Turn your ear
To heaven and hear
The noise inside
The sound of angels' awe
The sound of angels' songs
And all this for a King
We could join and sing
All to Christ the King