Sunday, May 21, 2006

Some thoughts on Sunday morning

Sunday morning in the Episcopal church I have mostly attended for more than a year now. I am so moved to be here, I can't believe I almost didn't come. All the way in the car I was thinking about three other churches I might belong to, planning when I might attend each one and how I might approach the task of studying and comparing them. And then I walked into the church that is as close to being my own as any and wondered why I thought I needed to be anyplace else.

Sun was streaming through the stained glass window at the front of the church, and familiar faces were all around me. Everything seemed more beautiful than I could have imagined, from the flowers on either side of the altar, and the felt banner with cut-out hands representing members of the congregation young and old, to the prayers we prayed and the bread and wine we shared. I sometimes fret at the plainness of this church, but this morning I saw it the way you see the face of a family member, putting aside the usual abstract standards of beauty and replacing them with a fondness that's based on familiarity, that's based on love.

Lately I've been catching up on some reading I meant to do before I was inundated by assigned reading for the class I audited this past semester, and this past week I've been reading Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical God Is Love: "Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history," he says, "he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church's Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives."

These men, women, and children do reflect his presence for me. They share prayer and life, know and honor each other's stories, reach out to each other in times of need, and strive together to understand what God wants from us and to live it. All the time I've been coming here I've been thinking about what I'm looking for in a faith community. Isn't this it?

And yet, I know there's still more that I want, including, yes, a beautiful church building, but also a charitable presence in my own community, a large enough base to sustain more outlets for spiritual learning and expression beyond Sunday morning, and more formal liturgical celebration of important holy days. This morning I'm wondering if maybe the answer isn't to accept this community exactly as it is, appreciating its many gifts and especially its wonderful charism of hospitality, and looking elsewhere to satisfy whatever needs I still have.

Then I wonder if I shouldn't be asking the same thing about the parish community I left. Yet I find myself determined not to make the mistake I made the last time around, investing myself in a community which (I must admit if I am honest) really never did seem completely right. Is it wrong to want it all?

How will I know what place is right for me, I keep asking myself, how will I know? But that's a question for another time, not for this morning, as I stand after the service, coffee cup in hand, in the midst of a small group of people who are talking and worrying about the future of their congregation as it moves forward, and who accept my presence without question, as if I belonged there.

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