Faith Works 4-5-14
On going to church, part two
In Edgar Guest's essay "Why I go to church" of 1928, which I quoted extensively last Saturday, he also said "I go to church because I want my children to go to church. I want them to know something more of this life than business and sport. I know only one institution that will teach them that they are divine."
And he adds, as a parent himself, "The church will interfere with their pleasures at times, but their mother and I sometimes have to do that, and we hope that they will love us none the less because of it. The church will mystify and puzzle them now and then. But all things that are worthwhile demand something of us in sacrifice."
Children are often the reason people come to church who haven't for a long time, if ever. Kids ask questions that parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would like some help with in answering, and they tend to be questions of a sort – "where are babies before they are born? No, I know that, I mean before they're in their mother's tummy?" – that church is supposed to be ready to deal with.
Those are all reasonable and practical reasons to go to church, whether this Sunday, or these next two special Sundays as Christianity experiences Palm Sunday & Easter, with the week between being called "Holy Week" in many places. From one Sunday to the next are often special services, including Maundy Thursday & Good Friday.
I'll talk a bit more about those unique and non-Sunday services next Saturday, and I get to preach at Second Presbyterian on a Wednesday noon this week, Apr. 9 (another one of those special services that come with greater frequency this time of year, in this case a downtown Lenten series). But I want to wrap up this extended reflection on why I go to church with my main reason for returning week after week, whether it's my job to preach or not.
I go to church to experience glory.
Do I find it every week? Nope. "Glory" in worship and in life is like the distinction C.S. Lewis made between happiness and joy. The kind of "Joy" he was talking about was a sort of experience that you almost can't quite pursue, and definitely can't force, but you also know once you've been in the midst of such joy, it's enough until the next time. Happiness is something that's nice, and comes and goes and if you mostly feel that way, good for you. But joy, now . . .
And that's what I mean by glory. They may actually be two words for what can be the same thing, like lunch and dinner, or wife and friend. Glory is . . . well, when you suddenly realize "all shall be well," when you see a connection and then realize it points you to the connectedness of everything which is One, or when the harmony and tone of a resolving chord at the end of a song goes on just long enough to lift your heart, even as you know that note will end but your memory of it will endure.
Glory is the sweet spot of God and time and you, when the swing and the impact tell you with absolute certainty, long before the ball goes over the fence, that this hit is going yard.
And yes, when you are preaching or leading public prayer, it can be in that moment of wild exhilaration that comes just as you feel the skid start to slide you sideways, and then you just as smoothly even out and power right around the turn, in the groove.
But it can also be the glimpse of light through a ruby red chunk of stained glass that catches a mote of dust, which swirls and dances and reminds you that you are no more than that, and yet you are so much more than that, in the light of the One you come to worship.
Glory is not limited to the hour of worship. It may come outdoors on Tuesday, or at a meeting on Thursday, but it's through the regular practice of and participation in worship that I believe my heart is made ready to notice, and take in, those moments of glory that give my life meaning.
That's why I go, anyhow.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him why you go to church (or don't) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.