I watch my 2-year old niece and nine-month old nephew three days a week, and when I read the
prayers, my niece sometimes listens with intent. And she always smiles when Nils and I sing the Lord's Prayer. Last week she joined in with us, doing the actions and singing along as best she could. We also sometimes sing a prayer we learned from some friends' kids that goes to the tune of Frere Jacques. She also has joined in on that when we've recently sang it at lunch.
One of my favorite parts of church is when the leader of Kid's Chapel does the ritual for leading the kids from the larger worship gathering to their own lesson time during the sermon. She goes to the table, lifting up the cross and begins singing a version of Sursum Corda that we echo back. The children then follow to their meeting place.
Leader: The Lord be with you.All: And also with you.Leader: The Lord be with you.All: And also with you.Lift up your hearts! (Kids follow cross)We lift them to the Lord.Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
After we have sung it through once we can usually hear the children singing it through a second time as they walk down the hallway to their room. I love to hear children's voices in praise.
Rituals and traditions often get a bad rap in the church. And often it's warranted. We tend to hold onto things because "we've always done it that way." We tend to fear change. We can let our rituals become lifeless and meaningless. They can even become legalistic: we do them because we feel we have to do them, and if we don't we feel guilty.
But rituals also have power--at least the ones done with meaning and intent. They connect us with something bigger. They help us set aside time out of our filled lives to take part in something purposeful. They teach us and remind us. They help us walk our faith journey when we're feeling low on faith.
I can't say for sure what my two-year old niece gets out of singing the Lord's Prayer with us. But I think it's something meaningful that she has felt compelled to join in singing it with us. I believe she has some notion that it is something we do for God. It joins her to something larger that she doesn't fully understand now while at the same time giving her some voice for things she does understand.
When Anders goes of to Kids' Chapel singing, he probably doesn't fully understand the words--I know that. Yet, at the same time he is blessing all of us--along with all the other kids. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
Jesus tells us that in order to enter Heaven we must become like little children (Matthew 18:3). I think there are a lot of components to having faith like a child (including trusting, playing and delighting); I wonder if part of it is in having meaningful ritual. Most children thrive on ritual (bedtime routines, saying prayers before meals, beginning school with The Pledge of Allegiance, holiday traditions, etc.). Maybe we as adults need to be more intentional in having purposeful rituals. And maybe we need to invite our children into them and find delight in their participation. There is joy in knowing (as well as seeing and hearing) that the Way of Jesus continues on in the next generation. The Lord be with you.