For all of my adult life, Sunday morning was synonymous with church. For most of my 30 adult years, the church has been the place of my employment as well as my community and also my worship center. The church has been the organizing center of all of my relationships, earthly and otherwise. Just a few short months ago, however, I went to church for the last time. Sunday morning now looks much like Saturday, but with a slightly different rhythm.
I didn’t set out to leave church all together. I retired from professional ministry and with prejudice. I was tired by the effort of being religious in an increasingly not-religious culture. I was crabby from the internal recalcitrance which made the necessary movement nye on impossible. Leaving the employ of the particular church community meant, by definition, finding a new one; which proved challenging in a state of disappointment. In the interim we visited a couple of communities that we enjoyed and respected, but pretty soon settled into the alternative – quiet Sunday mornings at home.
In the quiet, at my desk, I notice the greens and blues that dot the sky and feel the serenity possible in life abundant. I listen to the rhythm of the clock ticking behind me, like the waves that lap on the shore, endless and reassuring. I sip the warm milky coffee, noticing the nurture of familiar taste sensations, grateful for my beloved who prepared it.
But what is missing? For surely after all of the many Sunday mornings dressed up and singing in unison this solitude must represent a lack of some sort. And though there are no doubt missing pieces, a more fundamental truth may simply be that difference is value neutral. To point out that experience A is startling different than experience B is not to suggest that A is better than B, or vice versa. The rhythm of my Sunday mornings is remarkably different than that to which I had become accustomed, but I do not sense one better than the other… simply different.
I confess to missing the sensation of community that I experienced, pastoring with one community for 16+ years. I knew the babies, sat with the families in the waiting rooms, watched the seasons come and go with many precious people. I miss the connection and I miss the friendships. But this loss is one that was inescapable as I moved out of leadership. Definitionally I was required to move away from the particular. The only question was whether I would (or will yet) choose to find another community of faith.
Part of my reluctance is a tenderness around theological ideals. While I believe Jesus about God and embrace fully the wisdom tradition that he embodied, I find traditional Christian worship language grating. Crosses, instruments of death and torture, do not comfort my spirit but rather invoke fear. While our myths suggest life beyond the gruesomeness, too many crosses still burn as warnings on front lawns and loom as gate posts at the edges of communities that wish to keep my kind out. Similarly prayers that link Christ to Jesus without thoughtful exegesis offer a triumphal message which would be trite were it not for the continued imperial power implied. Believing Jesus about God, I find that I cannot faithfully embrace the tradition that bears his name.
I yearn for the kind of theological message offered by the Charter of Compassion initiative, the message of inclusion that looks for our common ground and our communal good. This is the message that we sought to share where I once labored, but it is a message that is seen by Christians as Christ-lite and feared by the the secular community as a bait-and-switch. I continue to believe that it a message that is worthy and relevant, but I see few opportunities for sharing the experience in community.
My spirit these days is nurtured in solitude where I reflect upon the lessons that the children have shared. My spirit is nurtured around 12-step tables where we do our best to share what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now; using the tools of the program as we share our stories. My spirit is nurtured in silence with a small group of Quaker friends who accept the interloper without judgment. My spirit is nurtured in the blessing of intimacy with my beloved. And it is very good.
As this Sunday morning unfolds with coffee and quiet and the familiar feeling of the keyboard beneath my fingers, I am grateful for the ability to hold the yearning, the loss, and the beauty of the present moment all together and feel peace. Serenity is holding gratitude for the many years in community while reveling in this present place of solitude without reaching for tomorrow’s unopened door. For these shards of serenity, most of all, I give thanks.