On Seeking in a Faith Community
Why do we spend so much time gathering as a community in the Church? Are Sunday morning gatherings an archaic expression of a once-prosperous model of "church" but now just a hindrance to spending time doing actual meaningful things? Do we spend too much time listening to sermons? Singing? Do we find that our gatherings are a safe place to ask questions about the nature of God and man? Does being a person of faith preclude you from being a questioning person? These are all questions I've been asked myself this week.
Since I was 16 years old, most Sunday mornings have been spent with a community of people within the spiritual collective known as the Church. Not all gatherings were in the same buildings or with the same people, but we gathered to primarily do the same things. Much to my surprise, it has never been a temptation to forsake these gatherings. Perhaps because I've allowed myself to experience difference aspects of such a community. Some Sundays I choose to gather because I wanted to spend time with people I love. Connectivity has played an important part as to why I choose to gather. Other Sundays I choose to gather because, in my often felt desperation and anxiety, I needed a real encounter with Christ. This has happened through the intellectual prodding of a good sermon and/or through the receiving of the eucharist and/or through connecting to the current of Christ in songs of peace and joy. Yet, still other Sundays I gathered because I believe it's a good discipline and an essential part in furthering my faith. My life is spent wrestling with acts and events that will help me become more like Christ - some days to much success, other days to much dismay.
There are many reasons to gather around Christ as a people. Some have more altruistic and social goals, others hope to receive needed social outlets. There are Sundays that I've needed my proverbial cup to be filled because of the trials that had happened in the past week, while there are other times that I've helped others fill their cups by loving and encouraging them to seek Christ and His community. Though I always seek something more beautiful and redemptive in my time with the community of Christ, I don't always get it. Learning to accept the complex ebbs-and-flows of faith is a lesson that will go a long way towards perseverance. Some Sundays my cup runneth over, some I leave as dry as I was when I walked in the doors. Yet, I still maintain belief that I encountered Christ in a profound-if-not-small way. Perhaps the profundity is found in the smallness of the encounter in comparison to the expanse of the divine.
I resonate much with Francis Spufford's reasons to continue to seek the encounters of Christ and faith in a society that has found that seeking is good, but the Church has abandoned the genuine pursuit of truth and beauty. When many of my friends who I love are abandoning the Church, I want to embrace it for all its good... and bad. Not because it's a magic school bus that takes me to highs that I've never been, but because it provides me a litmus test to help interpret and gain understanding and appreciation of all that is around me. It has provided me a place to wrestle with what is true and beautiful, wise and foolish, just and evil. When we planted State Street, I wanted to make sure that we became a place that accepted the complexity of having faith in a modern society. Spufford gets this complexity. His statement on having faith,
"Do I feel better? It depends what you mean by “better.” As my godfather asked suspiciously when a nurse said it to him, “Better than what?” I don’t feel cuddled, soothed, flattered; I don’t feel distracted or entertained. My fancy has not been tickled. I have not been shown cool huge stuff by a very big version of Jerry Bruckheimer. I have not been meddled with, or reprogrammed, or had my settings tweaked. I have not been administered a cosmic antidepressant. I have not had my HPtFtU removed by magic. I have not been told to take it easy because I’m OK and you’re OK. Instead I have been shown the authentic bad news about myself, in a perspective which is so different from the tight focus of my desperation that it is good news in itself; I have been shown that though I may see myself in the grim optics of sorrow and self-dislike, I am being seen all the while, if I can bring myself to believe it, with a generosity wider than oceans. I’ve been gently and implacably reminded of how little I know a whole truth about myself. I’ve been made unfamiliar to myself, and therefore hopeful; I’ve had the grip of desperation loosened. Desperation may well come back. In fact it may only feel as if desperation has slackened by one infinitesimal notch, but it has slackened, it has eased, because just for now I have been enabled to feel beyond it, or rather to participate a little bit in the freedom of a feeling that flows beyond, behind, beneath, around it. This is comfort, but it is not comfortable. It is awkward, undignified, exposed, risky-feeling. It is like finding that there is something in the thin air to lean on, something in the void— something about the void— which will hold you up, but only if you tip yourself madly forward onto it and ask it to take your weight." [Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (pp. 64-65)]
Reading that paragraph connects me to the authentic representation of what genuine pursuit of faith has been like for myself. I'm under no illusion that every manifestation of the Church has been a safe place for people to wrestle with faith, but I'm grateful that I've been given these sacred spaces that honor and embrace the struggle. Some Christians are afraid that if we ask too many questions then we will find answers contrary to the God we worship and serve or that we may, God forbid, find that our answers in the past weren't the right answers. Without a doubt, the great Psalmists of lament would be ostracized by such worriers. I'm hopeful that the Church can reclaim our holy vision on Sunday morning and throughout the week that we, like Israel before us, are the people that prod and ask and seek because we have faith that God is big enough and great enough and benevolent enough to allow and encourage such activities.
May you find Christ in your victories and tragedies.
May you know that He is loving enough to welcome your struggles in faith.
May the Church embrace the unique position in this world to be a place of wrestling with faith.
May we all be blessed in this journey.