I’m aware that not everyone attends church. And, you know what, friend, I appreciate your spiritual walk…whatever it looks like. Maybe at this point of your life you find it healthier to experience God in what might be considered a non-traditional way. I validate your search.
That being said, I go to church.
I sometime ask myself, “Why do I go to church?”
I think I have two answers. One’s better than the other, though. I’m aware of that.
Anyway! A few Sundays back I went to a inner-city church, building-large but congregation-small. People had name-tags. Like, nametags they used every week, worn hanging from their necks from elastic. There were rocking chairs in the front row. What I’m saying is: it was heart-felt.
At the “Alleluia,” we all stand to sing this joyful word of praise. The music minister was very talented, and he had a soulful singer leading the people. She gave the song all she had, and the senior congregation sang along.
I looked at the pew next to mine. There was a man who looked like, frankly, death. He was very old, very wrinkled, and so pale he was almost green. I’d peg him in his nineties easily. He couldn’t even stand with the rest of us, couldn’t raise his bowed head, probably couldn’t see very well from his thick-rimmed glasses. And yet, as the song started, he began to beat his hands together, clapping and singing as best he could. His best meant he clapped when he could, not on the actual beats. But, you know what, it was a glorious song of praise from a man giving his Creator all he had left to give. I started clapping, too. I clapped for him until I realized, I clapped for myself, too. He just gave me the inspiration. We clapped our Alleluias together as we joined in song.
This past week I went to a different parish. (It’s possible this is a personal flaw, all.)
I sat behind a darling little toddler boy, proudly scribbling in his Advent blue book. Next to me was a young family of boys. Two parents and three young sons. At the sign of peace, one with big eyes and cheeks became a zealous advocate of peace, “PEACE WITH YOU!” (leaving out the “be”) he declared, over and over, to everyone his arm could stretch to reach.
Except, he couldn’t pronounce the “th” sound (it happens to children, I understand) so it was “PEACE WIF YOU,” “PEACE WIF YOU,” “PEACE WIF YOU,” until the Agnus Dei began.
I wanted him to shake my hand, too. And I wanted to hold his face and look in his eyes and tell him that people would hurt him (even “church” people) but that Jesus has THE BEST LIFE available for him–and that’s what I want for him. I want him to experience holy adventure, exciting relationships, thrilling trips, and all that is blessed, beautiful, and good…all this and more in the name of Jesus. I wanted to tell him to hold onto his peaceful zeal and exuberant love of this that is church.
I didn’t, though.
Because, come on, who wants to be that crazy lady?
Guys, I went to even another church. Today. My daily-mass church. There is a baby-girl who sometimes attends with her beautiful Afro-American parents. Since her father carried her in as an infant I’ve seen the love in his daddy-eyes.
I hadn’t seen them in a while, though. She’s bigger now, looking around with a mighty little Afro that reminds me of dark ink spilled in the water–spreading all over in a wild symphony.
I watched her daddy hold her through the mass, her mother kiss and whisper in her ears and I sent my thoughts to her, “Do you know that you are beloved, little child? You are so so so loved. By your daddy, your mommy…and even me, sitting over here. Bask in this love.”
By the grace of God, my life is pretty dang awesome. Once I went to Australia. I met a priest named Fr. Tim. He was crazy, but we hit it off pretty well together and spent some time celebrating Jesus together Down Under.
I was there because the pope would be coming, and he invited the youth of the world to come and party with him. Basically…more or less. And I was like, “Yeah, I guess I’m up for that party.”
It was kind of crazy in that, being summer where I’m from it was WINTER down under and we were CAMPING in the FROST BITTEN tents. Good times, right?
One thing that was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience was that we celebrated mass every night…but in a different language, celebrated by a different culture. My favorite were the peoples of the tropical islands. They swayed and their men sang a yelling-song as they brought the scripture forward. They decorated the priests with plants and flowers; sang and danced and offered flowers, plants, hats, and baskets at the offertory. Together we sang the loudest “Our Father” I’ve ever heard…in a native island tongue.
Afterwards I was commenting about the beauty of their faith to Fr. Tim.
He told me, “Yes, we need their faith. Their faith touches us. But, you know what? They need you too. Your faith/ my faith needs to inspire those around us…just like we need them.”
I think that’s one reason why I go to church. I need the ancient man to remind me to clap with all I have, the young boy to offer exuberant peace, the young family to watch in love. This community of faith to remind me of the stories and of a God who loves relationship with His people.
I’ll tell you the more-important reason too, though.
It’s because I forget.
I forget if God really loves me.
I forget if His promises are true.
I forget if He actually has good things in store for me.
So, I come back. And I listen to the priest recount the story where Jesus offers everything. I watch the priest lift the Eucharist in the air, break it in half. And then I hear a holy voice say, “What else then do you need to know, Danielle? I offer you everything I am and have.”
Pierced hands. Pierced feet/ side/ head.
I offer people communion and I say, “Blood of Christ” and sometimes it actually strikes me what I’m saying, and then I hope that what they receive when I say “Blood of Christ” is “THIS! This, my brother, my sister, this what will redeem us and make us whole! Here it is! Ours for the taking. He offers himself to us. He is love. Be healed.”
And that’s pretty much why I go to church. So that Jesus can assure me, once a day if it need be, that He would do anything out of love for me.
And, you know what?
He always does.