From behind, I caught a glimpse of them, little children, carefree and pure, lined side by side. They took their spots up front, just before the stage, fidgeting excitedly about. Oh, how they drew the attention of the rest of the churchgoers, clearly thrilled to have them partake in joint worship.
In consideration of the younger audience, gentler hymns and songs were specially selected — children love a joyful tune, minor-free. As if by instinct, the congregation began to clap their hands to the beat of cheery melodies, encouraging the children as they too sang their hearts out. “Louder!” urged the worship leader with a wide smile, and they responded, their bright voices painting a precious picture of religious unity.
Yet, underneath a facade, held together by the collective strength of the congregation, a slither of doubt finds its way through the vein-like cracks. You can even hear the creaks. I found myself back in ’97, when I too was a little boy out in a sea of grown ups, singing similar hymns to the beat of my claps and the urging of my Sunday School teacher. It was the same year I was taught to sing the national anthem in flawless Malay. I knew the lyrics inside out, but as I look back now, I never really grasped what the words meant.
And so my repertoire of hymns broadened by the year, but my understanding of Christianity stagnated, and stagnated. I sometimes wondered, how many grown ups in my midst were like me, singing with a voice barely audible as their neighbours serenaded 10,000 Reasons with unmistakable understanding — or was it something that transcended reason? Then I started to wonder if there were people like me who struggled with comprehending what God’s presence entailed, as recounted by those who seemed to be magnets for divine encounters, while we continued to wait.
On and on they sang the Sunday routine, voices melding with the surroundings, and all I heard were echoes bouncing off the walls, words evaporating into nothingness. I glanced at the little children up front, singing their hearts out with wide, innocent smiles. I wondered what went through their minds, just as I tried to remember what went through mine all those years. I wondered what they might think, 10 years on, when innocence sheds its flaky skin, when the same simple words seem to make less sense. Would there be someone in my midst, not singing as boisterously; not clapping fervently?
I watched as the children took their leave after worship. One cycle ends, another awaits, and when service comes around again, they will continue to sing their Sunday routine.