Yesterday at church the Hymn of the Day was "Consider How the Birds Above" (Lutheran Service Book 736). Our bulletin contained the following note on the hymn:
"The Hymn of the Day is a contemporary hymn with words by LCMS pastor Stephen Starke and a tune by Daniel Zager, an LCMS church musician and doctor of musicology at the Eastman School of Music. The text is rich with Scripture, drawing not only from today's Gospel reading (Matthew 6:24-34) but also from 1 Timothy 6:8-10 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. With or without the music, this hymn provides a wonderful spiritual exercise, reminding us of God's loving care for us in our daily lives that we may be kept mindful of His grace and trust His promises: 'For He who faced for you the cross will give you strength to live each day.'"
When it came time to sing the Hymn of the Day I heard a few high notes from the organ, then silence. My first thought was that the Cantor must have made a mistake--maybe he started to play and then realized he had the wrong registration and stopped to fix it. Or maybe he just hit a few stray keys by mistake. It happens to the best of us. :-) But then it happened again: random-sounding high notes played in various combinations and rhythms that didn't seem to be connected. Then as I listened the randomness disappeared and it all began to make sense: BIRDS! I'm hearing birds! The bird sounds continued intermittently as the hymn introduction began in earnest and as the congregation sang the first stanza:
"Consider how the birds above
Feed day by day with carefree ease--
Does God not keep them in His love?
Are we not worth much more than these?"
Once I figured out what the organist (a.k.a. my husband) was up to, I leaned over to Evan, my 7-year-old, and called his attention to it: "Evan, listen! Birds! Do you hear them?"
He did, and his eyes lit up as he listened. I then showed him the title of the hymn and told him that it was about what we had just heard in the Gospel reading: how if the birds see no reason to worry we don't need to either, since God loves us even more than he loves them! Evan smiled with understanding, and when it came time to sing he joined me and made it through almost the entire hymn without a loss of attention. (Such is not always the case.)
I share this story to demonstrate how the tiniest detail can focus the mind and spark the imagination, not just for children but for sleepy grownups, too. The "birds" in the Hymn of the Day turned something abstract--the words on the page--into something concrete. Suddenly we weren't just singing about birds--we were hearing them! And that hearing led us to give more attention to the words of the hymn and consider its message and connect it to the larger theme of the service. It was such a small thing, yet it accomplished so much.
If you're a parent trying to teach young children to worship, keep your antenna out for things like this--things in the service that appeal to the senses that you can utilize to draw your children in. Don't be afraid to talk to your children during church and point out elements of the service that they can easily grasp because of their concreteness, and then use those things to discuss the larger, more abstract picture of what is going on in worship.
And if you're a pastor or musician, look for ways to highlight what is happening in worship in a way that illuminates the message for those in attendance (both young and old). It doesn't take a high level of skill, but it does take planning, which in turn takes time. But if our worship is as important to us as we claim that it is, doesn't it deserve a measure of both?