When I was young and just getting my feet under me as a pastor, I met a remarkable six-year-old boy named Jamie. Jamie loved God with abandon: embodied, whole, and full of joy. And he simply could not keep his exuberance to himself.
One Sunday, he seemed particularly on fire. Standing in the balcony, he was a body in constant motion. As we sang the opening hymn, “All Creatures of our God and King,” Jamie, with Creator-like intensity, shaped the moon in the air, patted the creatures, and set birds free to fly. His alleluias sailed above the heads of the congregation on the main level like sweet angel song.
Prayers? Hands folded, resting on his chest. His head was down; his eyes, closed.
Reading the gospel? When I lifted the Bible “The Word of the Lord,” Jamie lifted his pew Bible in all solemnity, lowering it and closing it with great tenderness as he replied, “Thanks be to God.”
And yet most powerful of all was the way this small boy wholeheartedly embraced the Eucharistic prayer.
“The Lord be with you,” I said.
“And also with you,” he gestured toward me.
“Lift up your hearts,” I said.
”We lift them to the Lord,” he answered, reaching heavenward.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” I said.
“It is right to give God thanks and praise,” he gestured, using sign language he had learned in Sunday school to express praise.
After church, Jamie came out with his parents to shake my hand. “Well, Jamie,” I said, “you certainly seemed to enjoy worship this morning.”
“Oh, Reverend Gina,” he replied. “I’m just so…so…so glad about God. And this (signing praise) is the very best.”
Out of this young, exuberant boy, a word of wisdom beyond his years. For all prayer, all life, all worship -- all prayerful worship -- leads to praise, praise, and only praise.
We shower our children with praise: for everything they do, for everything they don’t do, for everything in between. Children recognize the shallowness of such praise, and yet they will bend their lives toward it in the absence of something more substantial.
True praise, born of worship, serves to join the heart of the child-- rich in praise, to the love of God -- the One worthy of praise. The worship of God’s gathered people in Spirit and song, the holy embodied gestures of ritual, the familiar words of liturgy and prayer, the deep symbols of word, water, bread, cup and light: touched and handled with beauty, reverence and awe satisfy something God-shaped in a child’s heart.
Praise shapes the heart’s journey toward God, wooing us to the end. So whenever I sense myself losing heart, or feeling petulant with God, or being just plain lazy about my worship, I remember this shining, shining boy. His little life is so completely devoted to God. And I remember his witness to me. “Reverend Gina, I am just so…so…so glad about God. And this (signing praise) is the very best.”