What is it about church that gets into a person’s blood, that makes them put aside their Sunday paper or doings to attend?
Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s God. At least, not for me. If two years of abstinence from church has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need church to find God or to experience the Holy.
I sense God everywhere. In the everyday. The sunrise, for instance. Or sunset. Sometimes in a bite of buttered toast. Or the smell of rain — especially this year. The smell of a newborn — always. Looking into a dog’s soft eyes. Laughter. Tears. Hugs. Hope. Joy. Beauty. Truth. Forgiveness. God is in whatever it is that makes my heart sing, in that which makes me stand in attention and awe.
So if not God, then what? Well, there is the pastor. And the sermons — most which I can’t recall an hour after hearing them. Here it is Tuesday and I’m wracking my brain for Sunday’s topic — surely it was about Advent — I know I listened. But all I can remember is what the preacher looked like and what he sounded like. Not a word he said.
Ah, but there are others words for which I do have a soft spot in my heart. All that rich liturgy — and why wouldn’t I? — being a writer of sorts, there’s something a mite powerful about uttering ancient words passed down through the centuries by those who first heard them spoken by the Christ — or his Apostles — which they recited over and over to ensure they got just right, so they never ever forgot the seeds of their faith. So help them God.
For the same reason, I adore singing hymns though I can’t carry a tune. The music, of course, is memorable. But again, it’s the words that hold and carry such power across time and space:“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee.”
Who in their right mind doesn’t wish to be free of fear and sins and guilt? Surely we’re united in this, whether ‘churched’ or ‘un-churched.’
But as I think about it, it’s not just the words. It’s the act of speaking and singing them in unison. Or taking communion in unison. Being a church-goer is about being part of something bigger than myself — sitting in the pew surrounded by others like-minded but totally different sitting in their own pews — with their own individual joys and fears and gifts and quirks. And when church is really good and right, all these gentle souls simply fade away to leave space for communion with God. And when that happens, even I fade away.
Something like this happened to me last Sunday. I was in a chapel full of worshipers, and a preacher in robes in the pulpit with a booming voice — and for a brief moment, all I felt was God. Afterwards — I think it was afterwards — I began to remember a recent conversation with my spiritual director; about how I felt Jesus, of late, had become like one of those Facebook “friends” — you know, the ones you knew and hung out with, many many lifetimes ago — that you’d all but forgotten until behold, they found you again on Facebook and asked you to become their friend. The kind that you say yes to — or is it ‘accept’ or ‘confirm’?– for old times sake, rather than because you believe saying ‘yes’ will make them friends again.
Well, as I was thinking about this snippet of spiritual direction confession, it came to me that I should read a book — something contemporary, preferably fiction — where I might actually bump into Jesus and get to know him again. To really become his friend again. And so that’s what I’m doing. I’m reading Margaret George’s novel, Mary Called Magdalene, which I began last Sunday.
Perhaps the best part of attending church is that one never knows what will come of it — sort of like everyday life, when one really attends to it.
I can relate so much to this post. A lifetime of going to church, Sunday morning, night and sometimes Wednesday night. Teaching, home open and special ministries were always a part of my life.
For several years I attend very seldom. A blessing when I do but it is different then in the past. At this time I am continually praying and my simple home at the edge of the woods seems to bring total spiritual peace.
Do miss the echoeing of the special songs in church – but my Bose player lets them sound throughout this cottage and when weather permits the sound is in the woods.
I can just imagine you teaching. Why you still do it, don’t you, through your blog at Woodhaven — sharing snippets of truth and beauty that speak to you, to the place where you are. In the moment.
And of course, I like very much the thought of your Bose carrying songs to your woods — who knows how many creatures great and small are adding harmony!
I’m a liturgical sort, so I especially love Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.
Have you read Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm? I love this quotation from near the end of the book – “I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.”
Janell West said:
It’s been a while, but I have read Holy the Firm. I remembered this particular bite as soon as I began reading it again. It makes me smile and perhaps, just as important, I bet it makes God smile.
Other bits I remember about this book is the story of the airplane stunt flyer (at the end of the book, I think) — and the one about the moth burning up in the flame. And then, I think in chapter two, didn’t she begin with something about a baby with birth defects — I don’t remember, but was the baby possibly born without a face? Maybe I’m confusing these with other Dillard books. And maybe that baby did have a face but was missing something else — I probably just have face on the mind right now from too much thinking about facebook. And with that, I’ll see you over there.
Wouldn’t Holy the Firm be another good book to nourish our souls in this season of Advent?