Friday, January 25, 2013

Reflections in the Parking Lot

Disclaimer: This post is going to be about church and my faith. I'm not writing it to try to preach to anyone or tell you how to think or what you should believe. I'm just telling you about a moving experience I had that I can't forget.

Do you ever have the feeling that you're right where you need to be? Like, right EXACTLY where the universe ordains, right in the perfect moment? I had that feeling last Sunday in a church parking lot, then in a pew, then as I was shaking the preacher's hand after the service.

Going to church regularly is an important part of my life, or at least it used to be. I'm very familiar and comfortable with the rituals, the music, the sermons, and I feel as though (when I'm at a church that I can connect with) I get a spiritual boost for the week, and that it's easier to pray because I feel closer to God, just for having set aside an hour on Sunday morning to contemplate His works. But I hadn't been going for awhile. There were lots of reasons, the usual ones... too busy, wanted to sleep in, wanted to have Sunday brunch instead, burned out, tired of being asked to volunteer for things every time I set foot inside the door.

But as you can see from my previous posts, I've just gone through a transition in that I moved to a new house in a different neighborhood. When I woke up last Sunday morning, I had the urge that I hadn't had in a long time to get up, get dressed and find a new church to go to. I googled my denomination to see what churches were nearby and found one fairly close. I was fully expecting that finding "the" church would take weeks or months of searching, possibly sitting through bad sermons and possibly being ignored by people in the pews around me till I found the right place. Nonetheless, I set off, kind of excited about the search.

When I pulled into the lot, it was a little early and I hadn't finished my coffee so I decided to sit in my car for a little while. The cynical voice in my head, the one that takes over when my faith is a little on the wane, started asking some tough questions. Like, what would I say if an atheist asked me why I go to church. What's the point? Is there a good solid intellectual answer? The cynic was thinking no, an atheist would just say it's superstitious nonsense and fodder for the weak minded. So what WOULD I say? Then the answer washed over me.

I see a lot of evil in the world. Anyone who has access to the 24 hour news cycle sees a lot of evil, horrible, bad bad things. From our Congress that can't get along while the country flounders to disturbed men shooting up schools and movie theaters, dictators directing their armies to kill innocent civilians, people starving, people dying in developing countries of diseases the West cured 50 years ago, people honking and flipping each other off in traffic...I could go on and on and it's truly atrocious when you think about it. I don't even HAVE to consciously think about it all because I feel like it's the muck we all live in day after day. It's in the air we breathe.

I go to church because I want to follow a leader who has a different set of rules. Who is not of this world and its cold cruelty but who says there is a different path. Who says blessed are the peacemakers, who says that the one who is the least shall be the greatest among you, who befriends the friendless, who says let the little children come to me. The one who said the greatest of these is love. I want to follow that man. Not because I'm a spineless sap who just has to have a leader to follow. Because I know, I know, that He's right. And in this dark world whose evil I see every day, I like to open my window to let the bright light of that love in, even if it's just for one hour on Sunday morning.

Then I went inside. I found a seat. A few minutes later, and older lady walked in, saw my coat sprawled out on the pew and asked if I was saving seats for someone. I said no and moved my coat. I said, "It's my first Sunday here, I hope I'm not sitting in someone's regular pew." She looked my right in the eye and said, "Honey, you're right where you need to be."

The sermon? About Jesus' first miracle: turning water into wine. At a wedding. (My upcoming wedding is THE #1 thing on my mind these days.) A sermon illustration? The preacher talking about one of the first weddings he ever did, for his sister in a small Texas Hill Country town called Kerrville. That town, my friends, is about 45 minutes away from where I'll be getting married. Did I mention that this church is on the other side of the country from that place? The odds of him having BEEN to that town, much less mentioning it on the Sunday I was there?? I'd put them conservatively at one in a million.

I'd like to close this blog with some of the words from the opening hymn. I couldn't really sing them properly at the time because tears were streaming down my face:

"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above."

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