So with all that going on, I found myself thinking about church a lot this week. Not so much church, as in "the teachings about God through the scriptures", but rather the physical and practical church...Sunday School and Mass and Youth Groups...the human/"going to the chapel" side of Church.
One of my kids recently asked me, "Mom, if I can connect with God when I pray, and I try to be a good person everyday, why do I have to go to church?" I have been asking myself and thinking about this question for the better part of my life. Over time, I gradually gained a variety of insights and experiences that felt like an answer and have just moved forward and kept attending with those things in mind. But this week, I got An Answer.
Now, before all of you check out because this is a "church post" (which it is, and please feel free to bail if you are so inclined.), understand that I try to write in a way that appeals, or is at least accessible to anyone who believes in a positive force in the Universe. So while these thoughts are couched in my faith, you might keep reading and see if they can help your own journey to find the Goodness in this life.
My Answer happened while I was sitting in a chair staring at the wall, petting my dog and not writing in the journal open in my lap. I started thinking, "Why would God council us all to go to church? What could His purpose there be?" And I tried to imagine what Church would be like without all our human stupidity coming into play, imagining what purpose an infinitely wise and kind God would have in giving that instruction to gather and worship.
When I say "my Answer happened" what I mean is one second I was asking the question, without having a clue what the answer was, and the next second I had a full, rich understanding deep in my soul of the answer, like I had known and tested this new information so thoroughly there was no point in thinking anything else. It was just wisdom.
God simply started by reminding me of the conversation between Christ and one of the many learned community leaders, where the man asks Jesus, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law? (referring to the entire Torah)" Christ answers, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:35-40)
These two ideas are supposed to be the absolute center of a Christian's life, to love God and love our fellow man. "Great!" I thought. "But what does that have to do with church?"
This question is exactly why we all have the opinion we do about organized religion.
God patiently continued by showing me that His intention is for a person to gather with other people who believe the same things about God. The point being to share the insights and experiences and enlightenment they have found in an effort to help give each other comfort, hope, and clarity. This group provides the potential to become friends and the opportunity to serve. It builds a community of people who will challenge each other and help each other and guide each other and push each other. Love your God. Love your fellow man.
I was completely stupefied by the beauty and simplicity of this power of this idea. By the accessibility of it. By the wisdom of it. By the hope and compassion and humanity it opened my mind to. I just sat and felt the elegance and truth of it coursing through me for several minutes. And I'll be honest, I was a lot humbled by it. I have gone to Church almost every week of my entire life, and this had never even occurred to me.
If I look, I can see these two ideas, "Love god, Love your fellow man", woven into the seams and bricks of all the major religions I am familiar with. But I think it gets obscured by the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" that are so much easier to measure. It gets lost in our self doubt and our fears and our bad experiences. It is forgotten in our boredom, and our selfishness, and our haste to get on with things. It gets lost in shocking news stories of egregious behavior of religious leaders in this time and ages past. It gets lost in the cries of anger and pain as we forget that we are human, in our animal moments. But it is there, just the same. Waiting in the sun to be seen.
I think there are many who do understand this connection between church worship and the Two Great Commandments. And I rejoice that I am finally among their ranks. I have always tried to look for the person sitting alone in a pew, because when I was younger, it was often me alone. I often share my spiritual ideas and experiences, because I enjoy sharing with others and because I have a hard time keeping my ideas to myself. But somehow, the fact that doing these things is the point makes it all so much more meaningful. Church becomes the place where it is easy to like our Savior.
It is so lovely to think of a community of people acting and speaking with an eye toward the well being of each other. Oh wait. Isn't that how heaven is described? I bet, with a ton of mindfulness, we could do it here.
Love your God, Love you neighbor.
Maybe that's what I will start praying for next.
Talk to you soon,