During worship this morning I heard a strangely familiar sound. Sitting near the front of the sanctuary, I didn’t turn around to see who it was far behind my left shoulder. But I instantly remembered the first time I heard the same intermittent cadence.
While worshipping with the people of Haven Fellowship Church six or seven years ago, I heard the distinct sound for the first time. I was distracted and actually bothered. “What’s that noise?!” I thought. After the service I realized the source. Bobbie Smith was recently released from the hospital, and she returned to worship with an oxygen tank. The vinyl tubing emerged from behind each shoulder and passed beneath her nose along with two seemingly uncomfortable fittings that disappeared into her nostrils. Because of Bobbie’s diminishing lung capacity, the doctors prescribed a regular intake of more highly concentrated oxygen.
As with Bobbie, at Crosscreek Baptist Church this morning, a burst of oxygen passed from a compressed air tank through a tube and into someone’s respiratory system every three seconds. Just as before, the rhythm was initially distracting. But as the time passed, it took on a tenor more like that of a grandfather clock’s escapement, only operating at a slower pace.
Ever so frail in the few years I knew her, Bobbie was a delightful church member. Her lungs were ravaged by years of smoking, but she was full of life. Each month when the Free Spirits met for lunch and fellowship, she read the minutes from their last meeting. Her voice too was frail, but her wit was sharp, and her reading of the minutes always brought much laughter.
A few months after encountering the noise for the first time, I visited Bobbie in the hospital for the last time. She and her husband Gene were there along with the pastor and his wife. We knew that whether or not she returned home soon, her time was quite limited. The moment was sacred, as we reflected on her life, remembering, laughing, crying, and praying together.
Hearing the oxygen flow not in a hospital but in the context of worship made these memories all the more impactful. Our lives are frail. Our time is short. And we gather regularly for worship to celebrate God’s grace, to live more fully as the people we were created and are called to be, and to proclaim our faith, our trust and loyalty, in our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
The children of God (and we are all God’s children) need to worship, we need to follow Christ in community, loving God and loving all of our neighbors, like we need oxygen.