One of my students called Psalm 84 to my attention. “How lovely is your dwelling-place, o Lord of hosts,” it begins. “I long, I yearn for the courts of the Lord; my body and soul shout for joy to the living God.”
Regulars and visitors alike express similar kinds of reactions to worship in our sanctuary and our chapel. They are places of beauty and inspiration, and people come for the joy of gathering, song and worship.
The psalm continues with a peculiar image. “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest to for herself in which to set her young near Your altar, o Lord of hosts...” While the metaphor seems lovely, the reality seems much less so. Imagine God’s Temple peppered with birds’ nests - cheeping, peeping little chicks and the adults whose droppings accompany them. Certainly, any number of people would request of the mishkan’s Executive Director that they be removed at once. Birds and chicks don’t belong above the altar.
The psalmist offers a sentiment with which it is hard to disagree. Theoretically, the notion of worship open to all, even the uncontrolled sounds of nature, is a delight. But one person’s inspiration is another one’s distraction. It is clear where the psalmist stands – and it’s not directly under the nest.
Of course, I am not referring to birds in the mishkan. I am referring, yet again, to children in the sanctuary. One person’s delight and inspiration is another person’s distraction and frustration. In almost equal numbers, congregants have come to me to express both attitudes. The only thing they seem to agree upon is a mistaken belief that I as the rabbi have the wisdom to resolve the opposing views and the power to implement a compromise.
So here it is one more time (I’d say “one last time,” but I know better): Children are expected to behave like children, not like tiny adults. But adults are similarly entitled to benefit from an ambience of worship and focus. Parents must take responsibility for their own children, and the standard is simple. If you would object to someone else’s child behaving as yours does, then please intervene. Listen and observe with the entire congregation in mind.
And if other parents’ children disturb your worship, please consider sensitively and apologetically sharing that fact with the parents directly. Please do not expect that I will handle a situation from the bimah when I am in the midst of my own worship (and leadership of services). (The one exception is when safety is at issue - and then, no one should hesitate.)
It is no surprise that my heart is with the psalmist and my eye is on the sparrow. After all, I am barely out of the nest myself.