So Sunday arrives again, with its inherent and most welcome sense of peace and repose. I awoke early, and finally finished Wolf Hall (although fascinating and wonderfully written, I was beginning to despair of ever reaching the end) and I think I’ll move forward with some lighter reading fare.
I was on the fence about attending church today, and finally decided to stay home. Instead, I read an essay of Frederick Buechner’s called Hope (from A Room Called Remember). It made me ponder my own church experience of late, and ways it has changed in recent months.
Buechner says we go to church in Hope that there is a God who knows us, is keeping track of us, and wants to meet us there. As a physical place, a church is not holier than any of the other places on earth – historically, we’ve imbued it with holiness because of our expectation for what will occur when we get inside, because we consider it God’s house if you will. As such, we go with the hope of being able to shed the heavy overcoat of guilt and sadness we carry around during the week, of being allowed to leave our shoes, laden with the muck of strife and meanness, at the door. And perhaps, almost superstitiously, we think that if God is looking for us at all, looking to gift our lives with His grace, then he will be more likely to find us in the pew than on a street corner, or in our favorite coffee shop, or even tucked sung in our beds. Now I don’t really believe that part, and I don’t even believe that one has to attend church on a regular basis to be a true disciple of Christ. I do believe that church centers us in the faith, gives us the reassurance of a community of believers, and lifts us up when we falter on the road of life.
Nevertheless, church going has been a sporadic proposition for me. I’ve been a member of my current congregation for almost 15 years, which represents the longest consecutive period of church attendance in my life. For most of those years, I’ve sung in the church choir. But I’ve taken this year off from singing and, oddly enough, it’s altered my worship experience for the better. Somehow, when I’m in the choir loft, I’m “on” as a musician, I’m preparing mentally for the next song to sing. I’m conscious of the people sitting next to me, while feeling separated from my husband who’s three rows behind me in the tenor section.
But on Sunday mornings this year, I go into the Sanctuary alone, and tuck myself into the left corner of the fourth pew from the front. The Steinway grand is just in front of me, and I love to watch Sandy (who is my piano idol) play the Prelude. I can see the minister’s face as he preaches (rather than the side of his head which is our view from the loft). And while I still miss sitting beside my husband, I can at least see him and revel in the expressions on his face as he sings. Sitting there throughout the service, I feel not only comfortable but comforted, as if I really have left my muck covered shoes at the door, and will return to find them clean and shiny again.
“Something is missing from our lives that we cannot even name,” Buechner writes, “something we know best from the empty place inside us where it all belongs. I think we go to church looking for that something – call it peace, call it understanding – even call it Hope. As I sit in my own stillness these Sunday mornings, I’ve come quite close to finding it.
I think if you have your ears open, if you have your eyes open, every once in a while some word in even the most unpromising sermon will flame out, some scrap of prayer or anthem, some moment of silence even, the sudden glimpse of somebody you love sitting there near you, or of some stranger whose face without warning touches your heart, will flame out – and these are the moments that speak our name in a way we cannot help hearing. These are the moments that in the depths of whatever our dimness and sadness and lostness are, give us an echo of a wild and bidding voice that calls us from deeper still. It is the same voice…that one way or another says GO! BE! LIVE! LOVE! sending us off on an extraordinary and fateful journey…
May your Sunday, your week, your life, be filled with hope.