I didn’t want to go to church this morning, and I was probably a little bit late-on-purpose, testing whether I’d allow my usual pattern of self-sabotage and regret to kick in. I went anyway, because I’ve found in the past that it’s when I least feel like going that there’s a really pertinent, useful thought for me to ponder.
Today was no exception.
Walking through the heavy, wooden doors, I was greeted by the sound of singing, the scent of fresh coffee, and the sight of tables piled with the leftovers of what had evidently been an epic breakfast – pastries, croissants and crumbs were all over the place, and several smiling, low-chattering members of the church were helping to clear away.
I snuck past them with an apologetic ‘please-don’t-talk-to-me’ smile, without making eye contact.
Through the glass doors and into the main room of the church and…panic! It was all different and the chairs were set out in groups around tables so people could gather together and talk – like the family we’re meant to be – but today this wayward daughter was in no mood to extrovert, so I set my mask to ‘all okay’, whisked past them all and through another heavy wooden door – behind which were the stairs to the balcony, and my sanctuary.
There was no-one up there, which was perfect.
I walked as quickly and silently as I could along the gangway behind the rows of upright, boxy pews – designed to allow Victorian servants to attend church with their masters and mistresses, and to hear the word of God without having to disgrace the congregation of important people, with their lowly status (thank goodness things have improved towards a far more Biblical, inclusive environment) – and found a seat on the floor at the back, under the shadow of the organ, which stood majestic in its carved frame and towering, shining pipes reaching heavenwards.
Once I’d ascertained no-one could see me, I relaxed and began to listen; the hubbub and murmur of voices welling up and surrounding me, reminding me that I’m part of a wonderful community of a mixture of every kind of people, all of whom have gathered for one reason – they believe they’re loved by God.
As I sat, secluded and allowing the generosity of today’s message to seep in, I let my eyes and mind wander. In the roof, a grid of dark, wooden eaves were highlighted with carved shamrock shapes, their edges gilded brightly and their centres filled with a rich jade. The organ sat quiet and unused, though I know the power of the 32′ pipe, when you can feel the entire building shake with music and glory, and the sound of the song vibrates through your very skeleton and out into the aether, and your spirit soars on the turmoil and wonder of a praise so intense it can be felt cell-deep.
My memory stirred to a time when a story was recounted to me, of someone who had been attending a service in that very building, and who had been utterly convinced that there were angels sitting in the pews in the balcony, watching over proceedings and joining in, gleefully. I smiled to myself and snuggled further into my narrow piece of floor, leaning against the edge of one of the wooden pews and peeking over to see the presentation as the point of it all was discussed.
And yes, there are the things you’d expect (wonderful things, and things which we have a corporate and individual responsibility to promote, perhaps whatever our faith) – justice; inclusiveness; forgiveness; wisdom; care for the environment; active intervention on behalf of the poor, the lonely, the incapable, the grieving, the refugees, the orphaned, the sick and the desperate – but over-arching all of that; the things which transform lives and build communities and relationships:
Without gratitude and an understanding that we are not entitled but privileged, and in being privileged, are charged with seeking to help make reparation where there is imbalance, we can find ourselves falling under the spell of contentment; we remain within our comfort zone, snuggled and secure and (dare I say it) ineffective. We have an abundance and that’s wonderful – material and emotional wealth allow us SO many options and opportunities, but as people who recognise the humanity and the divinity in each other person in the world, surely an abundance also comes with a responsibility? I feel like it does – and not a comfortable one, because thankfulness can highlight disparity as well as joy, and lack as well as bounty. But there is no need for guilt, as I think that in the wonderful way we often find, our riches are increased by sharing them – maybe not in terms of monetary wealth, but in terms of the bright, shining treasures we can store in our hearts.
Without praise, we would be a glum lot indeed! It is a delight to see something wonderful and appreciate it. It is a joy to experience the awesomeness of nature, of nurture, of human invention and creation. It is overwhelming how wonderful this world can be, and if we don’t stop to acknowledge it and revel in it, we do ourselves a great disservice. There are so many old adages about ‘stopping to smell the flowers along the way’, and why NOT? We are aesthetic beings, built to appreciate art and beauty and music and kindness and accomplishment – ENJOY them! Appreciate them. And if you can’t praise or encourage the person who produced whatever it is that’s delighted your heart, then point it out to a friend, and encourage them to enjoy the good thing, too.
And without love, we would be nothing.
Whatever is good, whatever is wonderful, whatever needs fixing, whatever needs activism, whatever needs intervention, whatever needs relationship and hope and the reaching out of hands to connect with others and together all pull each other to our feet – whatever builds community, whatever heals, whatever inspires compassion and empathy, whatever overlooks the trappings and finds the core of a person and connects, and nurtures each one…
it is love
it is love
it is love.
It is the only reason I’m here.
The verses we were looking at were Ephesians 1: 15-23, but without the accompanying breakdown, update and ootz into now-life, you may find them of only limited use. Or they might be perfect. Up to you if you want to look, I feel I made my point up there ^^^
And yes, in spite of all my sneaking, I got caught, and arrived home to a text from a friend telling me she’d seen me sneak past, and would I like to meet for coffee, so that’s awesome. Compassion; connection; community – it all counts.