Churches

Praying_to_the_light_by_SilvieTepes

Praying to the light, by Silvie Tepes

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Church today, after a long, long time. After the past tumultuous few months, I honestly didn’t know how I would feel to walk in there again but sitting on the well-worn pews, flanked by my mother and grandmother, I suddenly felt calm and happy. There we were, 3 generations of mother and daughter, sitting together but alone with our own thoughts and it all suddenly just made me feel at home.

Religion was never something I spent a lot of time thinking about – not because I didn’t think it mattered, but because it was something that was simple to me: I believed. That was it, that was enough. I didn’t have a philosophy about it, I certainly didn’t pray endlessly but I didn’t feel bad for it either.

I think of religion as a quiet, private thing, which is why I find the more charismatic kind of church-going experience very disconcerting, although I daresay it works for some, and that’s ok. It just doesn’t feel right to me personally. I think that’s why I related to TMS’s post about TV evangelists. I don’t enjoy being preached at, but I like the idea of being guided.

That being said, I don’t know how many times a year I go to church. I’m pretty sure I can count those visits on the fingers of one hand. Still, I don’t particularly need to go to church, nor do I think of it as a measure of how good a person I am.

I watched a movie called Stigmata a few years ago and if there’s any particular theory or doctrine about religion that I hold to in an abstract sense, it’s the one in that. In the movie, it’s meant to be part of the long lost gospel of St. Mark – one that was dismissed by the Vatican as heresay because its writing basically declared the church redundant.

The Kingdom of God is inside you, and all around you, not in mansions of wood and stone. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift a stone and you will find me.

I don’t know if this story is true or not, and I’m not really interested in finding out. I just think it really means something: You don’t need a place to pray – anywhere will do. It’s the conversation that matters.

Still, that doesn’t mean I believe that there is no use for the Church. Today’s visit reminded me of that. I sat there and for the first time in months, I felt at peace. I felt like things didn’t need to be so complicated, so scary, so out-of-reach, if I just sat down for a few minutes each day and thought about it. I also realized I didn’t think enough. Mostly I fill up my time doing things that don’t allow me to really sit and sort things through. My mother has often despaired that, in all things, I am much too impatient. And she’s right. I’m too impatient for life to just happen but I don’t give enough thought to making it happen.

So today, as I half-listened to the sermon, I zoned out and thought about some important things. Maybe not important in the grand scheme of things, but important in my own small life. The one that I’m trying to live, the one that I’m trying to make work. I thought about the decisions I’ve made in the recent past. About the people I’ve hurt. About the people I’d forgotten to talk to and neglected to visit. About the myriad people that I love so very much. About the people I want to hold on to, and keep close to me, although I may not be physically close to them. About the things I may need to let go of, about old habits I may need to shed. About second chances, third chances, hundredth chances. About fixing things, about testing rusty fixtures that just need a good oiling to be able to work again, good as new. And, above all, about taking off my storybook-coloured glasses and embracing reality in all its flawed glory.

As my mind wondered, my eyes absently did the same, tracing the dust-lined drapes of the statue of Mary, the fading blood stain on Christ’s side; the light striking the sword of the armour-clad Gabriel as he crushes a serpent underfoot; sneaking glances at the faces of parishioners, very young to very old, as they bent forward in prayer; drinking in the harsh mid-morning light that streamed in, softened by heated stained glass; listening to the monotonous creakings of the old fans as they worked hard to cool the scattered, reverent audience. This may be a guilty confession but I have to admit, more than what’s actually said during church services, it’s the sensory experience of it that I love – the stillness of the building, the sound of murmured prayer, the release of a well-sung hymn. I often forget that I love it, but every time I go back, I remember again.

My thoughts seemed to free fall, coming at me all at once, but for the first time I didn’t need to hold them at bay because none of them overwhelmed me. I have a lot to do, a lot to sort out, but today it all seemed possible. Knots of emotion that I had desperately been trying to pick at these past weeks came undone effortlessly, making things seem clearer than they had in a long time.

The congregation started to pray and so did I, letting the hushed whispers fill my ears and wash over me. When the priest invited us to take communion, I walked dream-like towards the altar, still wrapped up in my experience of the place. My mother reminded me to look after my grandmother and I hurried forward to help her, and we all knelt, waiting for the bread and the wine.

The bread was rough, sticking to the roof of my mouth, but the wine washed it down easily. As I drank I realized I was parched – in many ways.

We walked out of the Church to the strains of the final hymn, hurrying to beat the lunch-time traffic on our way home. The sun was blinding as I stepped away from the cool stone of the building, but I still felt like I had new eyes. There was no epiphany today. There was no defining moment – only a little bit of clarity. Really, I was just a kid going to church for the first time in a long time and remembering that it wasn’t so bad. Even so, it inspired me, because it made me feel something I had not felt in a long time – something I didn’t know I really needed to feel:

Safe.

*     *     *

Monday, 24 August 2009

And just like that, everything changes, and you wonder what ‘safe’ ever meant in the first place.

af18dd67aed8a9219836db042bfa1b1e

Fear, by WhineCellar
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12 Comments Add yours

  1. St. Fallen says:

    oooh
    you wrote about church and I wrote about the mosque
    interesting :D
    http://saintfallen.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/the-joker-in-the-house-of-god/
    hope you like (:

  2. citizen says:

    that’s very meditative!
    it’s partly the architecture as well i think… but then again… (makes me want to re-read Alain de botton’s “The architechture of hapiness”)
    when i am home, i only go a place of worship if the whole family is going – and i always go when the whole family is going – because i feel it is something families must do together… it is mostly meaningful that way.
    but when i am away from home, i usually go every week, because i am my own family then and i somehow need that hour after a week of self-centered pursuits, to be a part of something greater than myself – to be made a bit less selfish by being reminded of my own reletive insignificance in the grand scheme of things… you know… that sort of thing.

  3. Church should be a place of worship, you can always worship within your heart or mind. listen to the voice, the conversation that you can have, to let out everything and say a small prayer at the end.

    But my family with very catholic manner would not give into that. I’m not saying we don’t church, all im saying is we dont need to go to church to pray. a argument which i’ve too many times to remember with my aunts.. :D

    but there is always some sense of peace when you walk into a large church with cold stones and statues, each one to tell a story of struggle.

    But that is not someplace i need to be at every sunday to say a pray.

  4. St. Fallen says:

    hey just wondering if you wanna contribute to the poetry project http://saintfallen.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/the-poetry-project/
    all you need to do is submit a line or two
    and then choose one and record it!
    then send it in when I call for submissions

    would really appreciate if you helped out!
    thanks :D

  5. javajones says:

    Nice post.

    I prefer empty churches – especially the ones that have striking architecture, stained-glass windows and beautiful statues. The other thing I like about Christianity is the fantastic music created by the great Baroque masters like Bach, Mozart, Handel and them guys. The ‘preaching’ bit leaves me cold – unless it is super-entertaining and relevant, but on the whole ‘God’ (for me) is not confined to ‘religion’, but rather, encompassing the energy that is all pervading. We just need to realize it – and if we’re lucky enough, to wallow in it!

    Some of the posts I have done on religion you may find interesting:
    http://javajones.wordpress.com/2007/02/03/this-is-on-a-touchy-subject-so/
    http://javajones.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/religion-%E2%80%93-the-more-positive-aspects/
    http://javajones.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/a-few-thoughts-on-god-%E2%80%93-inspired-by-george-carlin/
    http://javajones.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/the-wrath-of-god-%E2%80%93-watch-out/

  6. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone. I find them all interesting because they prove that we interpret religion in whichever way we want. And I think that’s how it should be. I was emailing a friend about this today and saying the exact thing: religion is what you want it to be. It can be a cause of fear or a step-by-step guide to life. But for me it is mostly a source of great comfort. I have no real idea of what or who ‘God’ is or what makes a ‘Christian’. I just know that even though I would not call myself a religious person by any means, I also could not do without it.

    Java, I agree with you about the architecture and music. Music is my most favourite thing in the world – if you haven’t listened to Franz Biebl’s version of “Ave Maria” you must. It’s one of the most exquisite pieces I’ve ever heard. I studied the architecture of Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals when I was in Uni and fell in love. When I walked into a Gothic cathedral for the first time – I think it was in Genoa, Italy – I could not hold back my tears.

    Will read your posts, thanks :)

  7. Dee says:

    i should do something spiritual. sigh.

  8. Palmyrah says:

    I’m an atheist, or at best a pantheist in the Spinozan (or Java Jones) vein. I was, however, brought up in the Anglican church and I respond well to ecclestical environments and liturgy (you can keep the sermons).

    Your post was strongly informed with the sense of community and belonging Christians, especially those in heathen lands, often feel within the physical environment of a church. For you it manifested itself in the generational connexions between yourself, your mother and her mother. Richard Dawkins, that notorious atheist, has confessed that he enjoys attending church out of a sense of ‘solidarity with the tribe’. That solidarity comes through vividly here, though obviously, as a believer, there’s much more in it for you than that.

    I, too, appreciate that feeling of solidarity at times, but for me the backstage area of an empty theatre or concert hall can evoke precisely the same feeling. I guess there’s not much hope for me.

    By the way, those lines you quote are the work, I think, by the Stigmata scriptwriters. Their closest equivalent is in the recently-discovered Gospel of Thomas, a line I’m very fond of quoting, especially to obsessive self-deniers and born-again types: ‘the Kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.’

    Good post, Gypsy.

  9. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Dee – Lol, yes – good for the soul and all the rest of it!

    Palmyrah – I think part of the reason I write is to get comments like yours. So interesting and informative, I kind of wish it was a post on its own! Thanks. That’s a great line – I think I’d like to read old Tom’s Gospel :) Is it even available I wonder?

  10. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Palmyrah:

    I wikipedia-d the gospel and these are two passages that I found. Thought you may be interested. The article apparently needs references to verify it so I can’t really quote it as fact but still, it’s quite fascinating.

    Thomas v.3, Jesus says,
    …the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty.

    Thomas v. 77, Jesus says,
    I am the light that shines over all things. I am everywhere. From me all came forth, and to me all return. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there.

  11. Palmyrah says:

    The Berlin Working Group translation of the Gospel of Thomas is here:

    http://www.geocities.com/mwgrondin/5thGospl.htm

    Enjoy. This is a gnostic Gospel, by the way, not one approved by Christian orthodoxy. Reading it, it’s easy to see why.

  12. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Palmyrah – Thanks, looking forward to it!

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