Sunday, February 03, 2008

on taking time out

Towards the end of last year Frank and I came to realise we were putting too much energy into our church with too little return.

Not that we were engaged in a transaction of service in which one good deed was exchanged for another, but in all the giving with little receiving we found ourselves depleted. So much service combined with so little valuing, understanding or filling on the church's part left us with nothing more to give.

We called a moratorium on church attendance, organising our way out of multitudinous commitments for the whole month of January and simply staying home. (Save for one service early in the month in which I had to play the piano) In the process of taking time out we discovered the joys of lazy Sunday mornings - lengthy sleepins, leisurely breakfasts spent perusing the Sunday paper (in truth we don't buy the Sunday paper, but maybe we should... I like the sound of it), quiet time observing the world, fed by creatures of the earth and sky. In leaving church we discovered church of an altogether different kind, meeting with God under the dome of the world. It was wonderful. Enriching. Restoring.

It was, therefore, with some trepidation we realised January had come to an end. February arrived and signalled the season of return, when we must edge our way back towards the tangled web that is our spiritual family, that wriggling heap of jumbled, unmet expectations, where varied understandings of God and differing forms of spirituality leave us bumping against one another uncomfortably. It was not an appealing prospect and we pondered whether 'the moratorium' could become a 'moving on' in which we never returned.

It's all wrong don't you think? Church should be the place of peace and comfort. One should step through cool, calm doors into the pure presence of God. Love, joy and grace should greet you. Instead we're met by people. Faulty, frail, fragile humanity. And the lumps and grumps and pain of attempting to walk together with God.

Frank and I overcame our reticence and returned to church yesterday. It was not a wonderous, joyous, bountious occasion, but somehow I did find comfort in being back with the people of God. The welcome, the hugs, the knowing looks from people who sensed our struggle (and perhaps are engaged in their own parallel struggle). Faulty, frail, fragile humanity, yet hidden within each one is God. We look out on the world through very different eyes, yet in each of us is a yearning to know God, to experience his pure presence for ourselves.

Walking with these people is not easy, but neither is walking alone. Perhaps the problem lies in my faulty expectations of those who journey with me. They simply can not fill me for they also long to be filled, but if we can recognise our brokenness and need we might journey together into the pure, healing presence of God, offering support to one another as we hobble towards the wholeness that awaits us. This is the family of God.

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At 11:53 pm, February 05, 2008, Blogger Sandy's Notes said...

I too had a church family Cecily, where I thought we all were together in our struggle of humanity and faults finding a path to a better place. Then there was a test of faith that split us up like a hot knife on icecream. The judgements flew; there was no compassion except for the pain within ourselves.

Unlike you, I lived in a fantasy thinking that we were all sinners struggling in our faith journey without judgement as best we could. I was finding hope and learning that God's work was more important than my own. It turned out that we were all willing to pretend to be the perfect Christian, but when some people did actually sin, they were shunned, judged, and tossed like trash.

My faith journey continues, but now I try to share my journey with those that I feel will not shun me from this earth for being human and full of imperfection.

I hope your church family is safer than mine was. I miss mine sometimes.

At 4:46 am, February 06, 2008, Blogger Cherie said...

I keep coming back to this post, Cecily. You captured the reality of the struggle and the need so well.

"Walking with these people is not easy, but neither is walking alone." Says it all.

I envy you your church and the people who know you. Since moving to this area 20 years ago, and giving up a church where we were safe, loved, encouraged, challenged, needed, and known, we have been walking pretty much alone as there seems to be nowhere where we fit anymore. It's just like high school - the regular crowd of kids have no room for - or time or interest in - the new ones. Yeah, I am happy for you to have what you do.

Great post.

At 9:07 am, February 06, 2008, Blogger Pam said...

I love this post, Cecily, and I echo what Sandy and Cherie just said. Joe and I have been walking alone for a long time now, missing the church family, but heaving great sighs of relief to be away from the humanness that gets in the way. There IS a balance out there, just as there is free will and obedience. We all just keep striving, don't we?

I have been away for a while and it feels good to reconnect with all of my favorite bloggers, but boy, two months makes for lots of catching up!

Thanks for a great, insightful post. And I always love all your pics! Austrailia is on Joe's and my list of places to see and your pictures do nothing to dampen this urge!

At 8:34 pm, February 07, 2008, Blogger Cecily said...

Welcome back Pam!!! Great to see you around again (and read your hilarious but serious blog).

Thankyou all for your comments. I feel compelled to explain more! One of the struggles we have in our church is that often times we don't feel safe. We are not supported or loved by some (in fact we are actively cut down by some). I imagine that other people feel we don't support or love them enough. I would very, very much like to leave, but I feel constrained to stay for now. Probably more because we have a new pastor just this week and we sense he will help us move as a church to a better place. We would like to be part of that if we can. Sorry, this is all jumbled. I am all jumbled! My post provided only a fraction of my thoughts and feelings - probably the most idealistic thoughts and feelings! But if I can hold onto the ideal I might survive and find goodness there in those walls. And maybe even in those people. :-)

At 1:53 pm, February 08, 2008, Blogger Deanna said...

I've felt the pain so often of a church not giving me what I truly need. It gives me more broken people (like me!). And yet (appreciating your idealism, and wishing to share mine, too) I think God is teaching through all this. We have a sense, maybe, of finding one congregation where all will be well. But God seems to bring me several "congregations" of people, sometimes intersecting and overlapping. It's just not the tidy once a week or one building thing I sometimes wish for.

Aa, such a long comment. Anyway, I say don't feel guilty taking time out sometimes.


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