On the weekend, I did one of the most Vineyard-y things I’ve ever done in my life: I took two of my tinies to a worship flagging workshop. Like, it was a class about great big coloured flags and how to wave them well during church as part of the worship service.
So we have flags. We wave flags.
It’s weird to outsiders, and I get that. But I guess I can admit now that most of what we do as Christians is a bit weird to outsiders and so just roll in the weird altogether.
I’m not a flagger myself but I have an unreasonable love for people who wave the flags. I’ve reached the point in my story when I want all the crazy. All of it. I want the sloppy prayers and the hope and the flags and the unreasonable and embarrassing expectations for the voice of God to break through my life and the unprofessional dancers and the praying in tongues and the Eucharist and the Book of Common prayer being read aloud like it’s slam poetry in an old warehouse. I want anointing oil in my purse and ashes on my forehead.
Part of my own story is that I went for a big wander outside of my my mother Church, encountering different and new and ancient ways of experiencing and knowing and being changed by our big and generous God as if I were encountering occasional cups of water while in the desert, drinking each one down as if they were sustaining me for the next leg of the journey. But at the end of the story – or at least at the point of the story where I am right now, who can say if this is the end? – I came home. I came home to the school gyms and the folding chairs, the humble people of God also thirsty for the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit, imperfect and sometimes disappointing and unabashedly sincere and utterly beloved to me.
We’re that kind of people, we wave flags and it blesses me to no end. My children are among the gaggle of kids who wave flags in the front corner of the school gym, off to the side, while we sing about the goodness of God at the top of our lungs and close our eyes and chase toddlers across the back of the gym.
The ladies who bring the flags for the kids are so dear to me because they are braver than the rest of us. They worship with those flags, too, and they teach the children how to do it well. It doesn’t take much guts for most kids to wave a beautiful incandescent flag over their head while people sing but I know how much self-consciousness and reserve has to be broken off of an adult to claim your flag and plant your feet.
It means a lot to me that we all get to do this. That there aren’t auditions or performances, that there aren’t “teams” or clubs. If you want to flag, grab a flag, there are no gatekeepers.
So the ladies held a workshop on flag waving for the kids and they made them homemade cookies and juice, they read them a story. They held small children in their arms as they sat cross-legged on the old carpet with them. You could feel their love for these children present in the room with us, it was warm and gentle and I think that’s sort of what the Bible means when it talks about how we’ll be known by our love, everything we do can feel like loving. They taught the children about what each of the flags mean – how red is for redemption, how white is for purity and for the Spirit, how purple is for the King of Kings, how gold is for the throne of God. I find it significant to wave flags that have no nationality, no borders, no patriotism, no exclusivity to them.
But they also told these precious ones that there is no wrong way to worship God and the colours might mean something different to each of them, that really it’s worship but it’s also listening and responding. One beautiful woman told about how she had seen someone worshipping with a purple and orange flag one time and how it reminded her of the story of the woman with the alabaster box of perfume, how that woman ran to Jesus leaping over conventions to smash that box open at his feet and poured out all of her treasure for him and weep and wipe his feet with her hair, longing for forgiveness and I swear the warehouse began to smell of perfume.
Then they turned on the music and they all danced. Danced! They spread out around a cement warehouse and waved beautiful incandescent flags together. Little ones spun around the room like fairies, like fire flies, flashes of pearly white and glowing orange and yellow and purple. I watched my two girls, so different from one another, wave even their flags in their own ways and I knew then that it was true: it’s an expression of our real selves somehow. Its deeply personal, a conversation, an offering in the midst of receiving.
Afterwards, each of the children laid down on the floor for a rest and the ladies prayed for them. They quietly moved around the room, lightly tracing the sign of the cross on their small foreheads with anointing oil, praying for each of them to encounter Jesus, to know Jesus, to step into their lives as an act of worship.
I should probably wave a white flag for all the ways I’ve surrendered: all the opinions and ideas and rules I used to obey and the ways that the Spirit swept like a wind into my preferences and gave me fresh air to breathe; for the alabaster box I would smash on my front street in gratitude, I just want to be walking with Jesus always, following in his steps. I wanted to dance in a swirl of indigo and gold, in red and kelly green, because in the midst of all the craziness of this world and all of the work there is to do it’s a holy thing to take a minute of your life to say Oh, God, you’re beautiful you’re as good as we dare to hope right alongside of a bunch of kids. I want to carry the sight of this forward into my life because I want the worship to be just as present in my work and in my life and in the daily every day acts of justice and mercy and worship and renewal.
I sat on the couch watching the class with a few other mums but I wanted to lay down on the floor myself: anoint me, pray for me, hand me a flag.
But I don’t know how to do this. I don’t use my body to express myself very often: I use words instead. I’ve never been coordinated and I can barely clap on beat. I’m not connected to my body for worship, not yet. The closest I have come is a good long steady walk in the mountains, I breathe in the air of the north and the west and it feels like cleansing like worship like an encounter because my legs ache after a bit of holy striding, my brain is finally at rest and I am simply present to my own breath, to the beat of my pure heart, to the austere beauty of being alive and being held and being loved and the only response is to love in response, to rise in response when you are lifted up out of the clay, to admit you’d choose it all over again and you are, for just this moment, as close to God as to your own breath and frankly you’re both enjoying each other’s company.