A friend and I were recently debating my old church’s strap-line ‘Delighting in God and displaying his glory’. (I’m beginning to question whether or not churches really need/should have strap-lines, but that’s for another blog post). We wondered if words like ‘delighting’, and even ‘glory’, really resonate with people and mean something to them. Do those words hint at something which intrigues people and lifts their souls to unseen heights where God’s splendour and majesty and awesomeness are overwhelming? Or are they just religious-speak that puts up an unnecessary barrier between people and an incarnational God-with-us?
Possibly a bit of both. At that particular moment, however, I was veering towards the idea that no one really uses words like ‘delight’ and ‘glory’ anymore. That is, of course, until Wimbledon.
‘A glorious sight!’ exclaimed one of the commentators at the Wimbledon final in response, I imagine, to a beautiful Federer shot which drained yet more hope from the possibility of this being Murray’s year.
‘You just have to take your hat off to brilliance’, he continued with awe-struck reverence. ‘What an enthralling first eleven minutes [….] Aaaaah, genius! […] That is a thing of beauty!’ Or simply, ‘The joy!’; gasped with rapture at the pleasure of the game and the skill of the players.
I raised my eyes at the seeming mismatch between the gushing vocabulary and what it signified: this is, after all, just a game. JUST A GAME! Nevertheless, I must also confess that Kitty and I spontaneously, and in sync, leapt cheering to our feet on Friday night as Murray soared into the final.
It appears that not only was Wimbledon dusting off weighty words that are frequently forgotten, but it was also unearthing a sense of corporate worship which, though perhaps a little misdirected, was nevertheless an instinctive response to something beyond itself .
And those were not the first outpourings of delight I’d witnessed that week. The previous Sunday, an ice cream van pitched musically up at the park where I was playing with my little godson and his sister, and all the children rushed joyfully towards it. Running out after ‘my two’, slightly scared of something bad happening to them on my watch, I grinned at their grinning while also fighting a pang of sadness at the loss of such pleasure in simple things that seems to come with age.
As Alice skipped ecstatically towards the ice cream van in the sunshine, she threw her arms in the air and exclaimed ‘Thank you, ice cream!’
‘Alice!’ I called after her, jolted suddenly from my reflections, ‘we don’t say thank you to the ice cream! We thank God for giving us the ice cream, but we don’t say thank you to the ice cream itself just for being what it is’. I didn’t think I was one for spontaneous applied theology lessons, but it just tumbled out of me in response to her misplaced gratitude. (Perhaps the theology lesson gets me back some of the godmotherly points that I’d lost by over-indulgently agreeing to their second ice cream of the day?)
Alice’s excitement at the ice cream and the nation’s cheers at Wimbledon suggest that while words like ‘glory’ and ‘delight’ may not be common currency, the concepts and emotions they convey are certainly alive and well. Both instances left me contemplating the objects of our pleasure and the direction of our praise, and wondering what our spontaneous acts of worship will be like when the obscuring and skewing reflections of today are replaced by face-to-face; when we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.