When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,” my heart leaped for joy. – Psalm 122:1 (MSG)
My grandbabies love to come to church with us. Especially the little ones. Setting up the instruments for worship is a favorite task as we prepare the space. When it is time, they love that they can walk right up to the front of the sanctuary and pick an Afro-Caribbean instrument to play as together we make a joyful noise.
Ten-year-old T’Lyse Marilyn is a natural playing the conga drums, and the toddlers cannot get enough of the maracas and tambourines. Sometimes even the tweens and teens join in.
They are a delight to witness. The joy they exude shifts the atmosphere as they, in their own way, engage (and lead us) in praise. It is a ministry to the very soul of all gathered.
This joy is the foundation we are being called to build upon as we gather in person. Not on the rubble of the past nor on the possibility of some future success as church but on a joy that moves people, shifts attitudes and the very energy in a space, heals, unites, and liberates.
This joy is not some temporary bliss. It is not performative. It is not an emotion that someone else or something else can “make us” feel (i.e. “happy”).
The joy we witness as embodied by the children of our church is radical. This joy has been passed down through the DNA of those who believed “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) and “the world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away” (Shirley Caesar).
This joy is a way of being. Fully in the here and now. Unapologetically setting a rhythm that brings the church to life—both when gathered and when scattered in and with community.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for the gift of joy and its transformative power and for children who lead us back to it. Amen.
Marilyn Pagán-Banks (she/her/ella) is a queer womanist freedom fighter gratefully (though not always gracefully) serving as executive director of A Just Harvest, Senior Pastor at San Lucas UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is a joyful contributor to The Words of Her Mouth.