No one has ever asked me why I go to church, though I suspect some people have wondered why. It may have something to do with people not wanting to be rude by posing such a loaded question, but I suspect the real reason may be sheer terror of a response that might be the length of a sermonette, interrupted only by a quick escape excuse of having cookies, or kids in the oven at home.
I suppose that there are parts of religion that are childlike in the best sense of the willing suspension of disbelief, discussed by writers like Edgar Allan Poe. Despite my having to use a cane to walk confidently, however, if a stranger at Publix were to ask me in the canned goods aisle if I were “saved,” I could probably manage the hundred-yard dash faster than Roadrunner. Meep meep!
What is there about openly expressed religious devotion that can embarrass folks in venues other than a chapel or sanctuary? Large gatherings of people praying in public after a fire or other disaster don’t seem to agitate passers-by, but someone in the Walgreens parking lot proselytizing with pamphlet handouts makes us uncomfortable, perhaps because we can feel inadequate to deal with something that for many or most of us is excruciatingly personal, requiring a venue, where we know our feelings or convictions are shared.
There is no such anxiety, however, when on Sunday morning (or any other time), I enter church. As soon as I pass through the doors into the narthex, I am offered a bulletin and welcomed into a place where kindness, acceptance, and fellowship are offered unequivocally, always with a message of love, hope, and healing for all who enter. All of this is shared without the requirement of a ticket, my SAT scores, proof of my worthiness, academic knowledge of scripture, or a spotless record of my past behavior. Who among us could enter otherwise? It is a place of healing that begins within ourselves as we are reminded that there is what may be called the eternal within every visitor, something wondrous that connects us all to what is inestimably beautiful and unimpaired by the world outside, where there are still greed, envy, and cruelty that can at times blind us to an inner light that is always ours for the asking, a light that is shared sympathetically for all of us who are at times world-weary.
My answer to that question of why I go to church can never be answered too easily or accepted by all who hear it, but if I distill the response to its bare essentials, it is that the hope and strength I find there give me (messages through sermons and music) something I can take home with me, like a lit candle, and share through my behavior and outlook all the remaining days of the week, even when darkness comes, until the candle is relit the next Sunday. JB