Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Again with the church-related rhapsodizing!

I'm still working on a serious post, but this is one, too. It seems as though I return from my church's Lenten programs every Wednesday and I'm on fire. I haven't been like this since . . . honestly, I can't remember. High school, I suppose.

I used up any eloquence I might have in the car, thinking about all this, processing my emotional response. It's hard to find the words to reflect the change in my life and faith over the past two years. After college, I was really hurting. I had been depressed. I hadn't found a good church at college and had spent chunks of my senior year unable even to bring myself to go to any church at all. I felt not only unconnected from the people but unconnected from the Body of Christ - from its ministry and its leadership. I watched people like myself who'd grown up in the faith experience the same disenchantment. As my own faith was expanding and God was changing my heart, the churches around me seemed to be shrinking their welcome, their communion, their friendship, and most of all the reach of their God - church was for the holy, and I knew well enough that I may look holy, but I was still very much a work in progress. Who was I to dare to worship with them?

I remember church hopping once we arrived in Maryland. We even thought we'd stay one place, and did for a few months, but I kept wondering what else was out there, who else might have a communion like the one I'd grown up with - doors and hearts open, teaching from the heart as well as the mind, fellowship with my brothers and sisters. I went to church with J. Morgan and Mair and experienced their parish and knew that, though it wasn't close enough to be my church, the one we'd halfheartedly settled on wasn't either. It's hard to look for a house, and it's hard to look for a church home - you don't know anyone, you don't know the surroundings or the culture of that specific community, you keep wondering what you can sacrifice and what's indispensable, and it's hardest of all to keep getting close and missing the mark. God (and my good friends) encouraged me to try again, and Hubster and I headed out the next Sunday and found our home that day.

We started coming faithfully in the summer, and I quickly joined the choir, and I guess I didn't talk about it much in 2005, but the floodgates were opened last year during Lent, and suddenly I saw that spring had come again to my faith. I had my doubts that anything had lasted through all the frustration, loneliness, and stagnation of the last few years and suddenly, I was alive and growing in all directions.

I guess I'd been growing all along. The spring metaphor looks good on paper, but I have to keep reminding myself that tough times don't make us hibernate as often as they make us grow, awkwardly and uncomfortably perhaps, but they're as much a part of the growth as those happy days of warmth and peace. I gotta say, though, it's nice that it's spring again.


der Panzerkardinal said...

Interesting post, E. Church hopping, within a denomination or between denominations, isn't fun. As you say, it's often a very frustrating phase.

As part of a class that I'm taking this semester called Feasts & Seasons, I read an essay by former Notre Dame professor of the theology Mark Searle titled "Sunday: the heart of the Liturgical Year". One of the first things that he mentions is that one of the greatest difficulties faced by liturgists is relating to the people. The expectations and assumptions of a common "academic Christianity", sadly enough, leave little room for pastoral connection.

I've done my fair share of church hopping, and it doesn't always take the form of a job search. There are very few Catholic parishes where I have worshiped without having been distracted by the laziness of the liturgy. "It's a miracle anyone encounters Christ here at all, with such a sloppy and haphazard performance," I often think.

So I have to ask what it is about your current church, and what about their celebration of Lent that you've finally begun to feel at home?

Springtime is a beautiful image of spiritual growth, as it the concept of fruitfulness. I was asked recently if I felt as though I am bearing fruit as it were here at school. I replied honestly and said no, first thinking that it was a bad thing. However, to ponder the image more deeply, fruitfulness implies that others are being nourished by your own faith. It is not accurate to say that spiritual growth bears fruit constantly in the same way that trees, though growing, constantly bear fruit. It is refreshing, though, to realize you are growing, isn't it?

Mair said...

This is a great post, E. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing. It reminded me of that Nichole Nordeman song 'Every Season'.

E.A.P said...

Kardinal - I'm not sure that it's any one thing the church is doing right. I am blessed by their attitude most of all - they follow the liturgy and seem to perform it in spirit and truth, but they also don't worry if infants cry in the service, or if a lector mispronounces a word, or if the kid's choir processes out of turn. It's obvious that the priests have a passion for the liturgy, but they don't let it overrule kindness, either. During Lent, the liturgy changes back to Rite 1 (pre-1979) language every couple of years and the old language has been moving. Also, the programs on Wednesday nights have a meal we share, followed by a lay-led bible study in which lots of different kinds of people share their experiences and I find that enriching. After the bible study, we head upstairs for an informal Eucharist which uses the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer and shakes things up a little from what we're used to. It's an intimate service, and you feel closer to those with whom you share it because of the fellowship and learning that happened earlier. It's been most powerful, I think, because of that communion with believers.

Mair - That song got me through some bad times in college. The imagery is not new, but she develops it well and the song is beautiful. I think Hubster accompanied me when I sang it at my old church once, and that was lovely. I haven't heard it in ages; I think I'll dig it out again. Thanks for the reminder!

Sarah said...

Rica, I'm so glad you've found a spiritual springtime again. That happened to me in December, when, while I was listening to Sufjan, God ripped off the coffin lid and I found I was painfully, beautifully, shockingly alive.

We saw a lot of our dear friends undergoing the same kind of undeath in the faith in college, and now it seems like we're all waking up again. I think the Spirit of God is mustering the troops to do something powerful in our world, and I can't wait.

And I'm so glad you've found a church. I'm still working on it here -- something about it, even when I know I've found a good one, is terrifying because I think I'll never fit in -- pero que marvilloso para ti!

Lent is incredible. I've been working my way slowly through the Gospel of Luke and it brings tears to my eyes every day. What a Savior.

"Because I live, you also will live."


greg'ry said...

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
-The Byrds

(taken from Eccliastes)

Deserts are dry; valleys are deep. Both John the Baptist and Jesus spent time in the wilderness (desert) before they became all that they were meant to be. Valleys produce lush growth. Welcome them and you will find that "spring" is tremendous on the mountain top. So is the view (vision).