Recently I’ve found myself enjoying the show “Call the Midwife.” For those that haven’t seen it, basically there is a group of nurses and midwives who work alongside a group of nuns (who are also midwives and nurses) to care for the people of East London in the 1960s.
In an episode I watched a while back, one of the nurses was going through a particularly hard time in her life as she helped her own mother who was near death. One night, one of the nuns came out and sat next to her on a bench and offered her an invitation to join them in their evening prayer service to help sort out her thoughts.
The nurse replied: “I’m afraid I can’t even think of what to think just now.”
The older nun’s response struck me (make sure you read with a strong English accent): “A conundrum that has ailed me much. But in chapel, we need not choose our thoughts. The words are aligned like a rope for us to cling to.”
This put words to one of the very reasons I am thankful for gathering in worship with other believers. Whether at my church on a Sunday morning or Saturday night, in a large setting with hundreds or thousands like a worship festival I went to a few weeks ago or in a simple chapel with a few dozen at the conference I was at recently, I am thankful for these chances to gather. I’m thankful for the words that “align like a rope” giving something to cling to. I’m thankful that I don’t always have to know what to think or pray or do. Whether written ages ago or led by the Spirit in that moment, the next thing in the liturgy, the next prayer on the page, the next song to sing, leads me into God’s presence and leads me into peace.
Even a step beyond what may be written on a page, I am thankful for my fellow worshipers, the ones who gather alongside and cling to that rope as well. There are some weeks where my heart is joyful and ready to praise… my song, my words, my presence can stand in the gap for someone who “can’t even think of what to think”. And then there are the days that’s me… the voices of those uplifted around me carry me into that throne room of our God, the place where we find great grace and strength for the week, the day, the hour ahead. As the author of Hebrews puts it,
“Let us then approach God’s throne with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. … we take hold of the hope set before us [so that we] may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.” (Hebrews 4:16, 6:18-20)
One last picture that comes to mind is of the preschoolers in our school. Near the beginning of the year, especially in the younger classes, the teachers use a rope to lead the students. Spaced throughout the bright colored rope are different cloth shapes the students can hold on to. This keeps them in line, less likely to wander off, as the teacher leads them where they’re going next.
God’s rope may not have colorful shapes, but the outcome is the same. As I’m led into worship, He then can lead me back out into the world with freedom to live the life He has for me. When I don’t even know what to think, worship becomes a rope to cling to, an anchor for the soul.