Sunday morning I posted this “status update” to my Facebook page: “Going offline. Heading to Grace Episcopal Church, then the bike trail ... expecting to find God in both places.”
I posted that partly because I have gathered some new Facebook friends recently – from the Decorah eagles webcam, and a long-lost friend from high school. But there was truth in what I wrote: I expect to encounter Godde as often in nature as in church.
Upon learning that I’m an Episcopalian, some of my new Facebook friends describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” As do I. In fact, I was rather miffed when a high school chum said, “I know you’re religious, but …”
NO! I don’t consider myself "religious," and I hope friends won’t see me that way, either.
Maybe I dislike that term because I – like most Americans – have come to equate “being religious” with the Christianists [not so different than the “Islamists”] who are hate-mongering, narrow-minded, judgmental, mostly ill-educated luddites. And I hope I have nothing in common with them. I grieve that the most ignorant so-called “Christians” in this country are much more like Fred Phelps than they are like me and the Episcopalians I know and love.
So I am writing this mostly for my recent Facebook friends who are “spiritual but not religious,” but have characterized me as “religious.” I will try to explain myself here.
Why I Go to Church
So why do I get my butt out of the house and go to church virtually every Sunday of the year? On any given Sunday, I would probably have different answers. But these are my answers today.
I go because I am hungry. Hungry for something that transcends my day-to-day life. Hungry for a glimpse of meaning that is about more than me or us or our current time. I go to church, trusting that the Scripture readings, the sermon, and the liturgical prayers will support me, challenge me, … perhaps most importantly: remind me of my proper place in the cosmos. I go, hoping to be more humble before The Divine, especially when I get “all het up,” thinking I know how God should rule the world. I can only find two places that “work for me” that way. Church is one. Nature is the other.
I go because I can kneel in my pew and feel intimately alone with God … gently and tenderly ignoring the person next to me … but also feeling a kinship and deep connection with that person next to me and with all the other yearning souls in that space. For we are all working this out humbly. The humble kneeling, I can do in nature. The “kneeling in community,” I can only do in church.
I go to church because there is something in the Episcopal liturgy that draws me beyond myself and beckons me into conversation/communion with The Divine … however I might understand “The Divine” or “God” on any given Sunday.
I go because when it all “works” – when the language and music and silences and Scripture readings and prayers all come together for me – I am lifted outside myself and get a tiny glimpse of what God or the Spirit are … and how very much God/Spirit loves me and all of us. In those moments, I am transported. And I thank God for that freedom from the limitations of self.
And I go for the Eucharist – the bread and wine blessed and broken and shared with all of us. My friends, I don’t understand why it “works on me” as it does. But something seems to happen as all our hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows move toward the altar, gathered up and transformed in the Eucharistic Prayer, and then broken and shared with us.
I’m no theologian. I can’t explain what’s happening. But I experience a transcendence in only two places: hiking in wilderness … and worshipping in my parish and other Episcopalian parishes.
That’s probably not true for some of you. I know it is true for many of you.
I am grateful for the ways that Godde shows Godself in my church, and in nature.