The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. (Albert Einstein)
Due to circumstances beyond my control, last fall I found myself attending one of the start-up Anglican mission churches in my area. It was radically evangelistic, making quite a shocking contrast to my somber, foggy, high-church Anglo-Catholic tradition. What were considered hymns were projected up on a screen, with appropriate art flashing up the words. There were no prayerbooks. There were no kneelers. So I satisfied myself with sitting during prayers, except when I couldn’t stand it, as during the confession, when I just knelt on the carpet.
I must have stood out like a sore thumb.
After a few weeks, having adjusted somewhat to the nontraditional service structure, the blurted out service music, the histrionics of the most passionate rector who gave great sermons, I settled in enough to look about.
I had grown up in a tradition that upon entering the nave before a service, you softened your voice and subdued your exuberance. And, as best as you could, you honored those in prayer around you.
At this new church, celebrating its new-found existence, coming into the nave was like dropping by a dress rehearsal of a local theater. People bustled about, laughing loudly, spinning on their heels and bounding back the way they came, to complete something overlooked. Clusters formed and broke apart, stirred by apparent needs to connect with those who brushed by.
It was like a human demonstration of what it is to be active on Facebook.
I, of course, sat quietly.
I must have stood out like a sore thumb.
It was at times amusing to watch, all this fervent activity. But it was also confusing.
Then, one Sunday, I watched this swarm congregation on a deeper level, and I realized, to my horror, that even during the time after communion, a time during which I was accustomed to singing, seated, a quiet hymn, with most of the congregation on their knees, that these enthusiastics went about their socializing as though it were the intermission in a play. Up out of their seats they jumped and ran about connecting and connecting again, the lazier ones satisfied just to turn around and chat with the people behind them or to check their cell phones for text messages.
And the thought clarified in my head: there is no reverence here.
I was amazed when just a few days later, while listening to the Roman Catholic radio station, EWTN, actually thinking that here was an organization wherein there would be no such lack, a congregant telephoned in to the priest currently on the radio to say the exact same thing, that in her congregation, in her ragged opinion, there was no reverence. The youth, she complained, came dressed to party; the adults spent no time in reverential adoration. The priest of her parish did not lead his congregation to be still in church.
Somehow, somewhere, even we as church goers have forgotten that the church is a temple. A temple dedicated to God. A structure that is sanctified, purified, to be used for worship.
Our worship is about the mystery of God. While we are free to open ourselves to this mystery wherever we feel comfortable to, when we walk through the doors of a church, we should be able to have the confidence that as the doors close behind us, we are in a safe space to open ourselves up. We are free to put aside all of our concerns and sit in silence. Louden Wainwright, III, calls it the period of “divine relaxation.”
As we enter the realm of stillness and let the sense of awe fill our hearts and minds, we can step out of the moment-by-moment, ticking-away aspect of time and allow ourselves to become lost. We can reach out to that aspect of the universe that is so much larger than ourselves, that which lies beyond our comprehension. And we can do this without fear because the temple holds us in, in its strong compassion.
In the stillness, we can connect the Creativity of God with our own small creativity, and inhale God’s Inspiration into our own small inspirations. From these connections we can be infused with that blessed elation, that joy that having opened ourselves up to the light of God comes and dances in our souls.
We can, with time, clear out our own thoughts and judgments, and allow in divine wisdom and understanding. Transcendence of our limitations can use such underpinning and reinforcement. We need this in our lives. We need this in our world.
The acknowledgement that God is here with us, that Jesus is real, is, after all, the reason for church. May those who have forgotten this find their way back to the acceptance that we all need to be still and know that he is God.