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.