April 4, 2011

With Your Hands in the Air...

I've always been a spiritual person. Always? Yes, I think so. Raised Catholic, I spent my childhood going to a gigantic church, physically and congregation-wise. This structure was built out of huge slabs of stone and marble. Twin bell towers stood two or three stories over all the other buildings on the block. Inside, deep red marble pillars supported beams stained a dark brown with mysterious symbols painted in gold. Rows and rows of pews (why do they remind me of the tile holders in Scrabble?) faced the enormous alter also made of marble. The physical presence of power, holiness, sacredness was undeniable. From here I get my love of entering a silent church, kneeling down, and praying. I can think of nothing more spiritually satisfying than those moments of feeling close to God in the sacred silence.

Eventually, I left the Catholic church and spent about ten years as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I actually enjoyed most things about being JW (as we called it) but there were some things I didn't enjoy and ultimately left, which was spiritually difficult for a number of reason. I will summarize by saying, I left without knowing whom I could trust or what I should believe. I was also going through a divorce and that had its own debilitating effects.

For awhile I didn't attend church and I missed it. So, I started venturing out to different churches. It seemed no matter what church I went to, I found the same thing: terrible sermons. Why do we have to have sermons! Let's sing, let's pray, let's meditate! Let's break bread, pass the grape juice, wish each other well and move on.

I also found lots of "contemporary" services - where the organ has been replaced by drums, flutes, guitars, and hymns set aside for "Me and Jesus are FB friends" music. Along with that music comes: people who put their hands in the air, palms wide open, fingers splayed, reaching, swaying, feeling. Oh gosh. I just hate that. I'm sitting alone in my own living room as I type this and can hardly bring myself to make such a display of what? Zealousness? Letting-go-ness? Acceptance? What is this thing about! Why do people do this thing?

Here's what I find odd. Just a few weeks ago I went to an Eagles (yes, Peaceful, Easy Feeling Eagles) concert. They were rocking- so much energy and excitement! And guess what I did? I rocked out! I clapped, I sang along, I swayed, its possible I even put my hands in the air, palms wide open, fingers splayed, reaching, swaying, feeling. That was Friday night. Fast forward to Sunday morning at 11a and I am standing in the pew at church, arms folded, singing along to the words presented in Powerpoint style on the screen above the alter. Not everyone has their hands in the air, but lots of people do. People my age, older, younger. The singers up front are performing the church version of American Idol. They squeeze their eyes shut as they try to convince the microphone they really, really love Jesus. I'm sure they do, I just don't understand why they have to be so exuberant about it. Its sort of overkill - you know? For me.

I want to tell you, however, that I love going to this church! Union Church. For the first time in many, many years, I look forward to going to church. The pastor gives excellent sermons! They make sense. They are timely. They are meaningful. He is human. He is funny. He is serious. He gets what life is like and about. He knows we need guidance - we are strangers in a strange land, on several levels. We are all far from home. So is he! He's from Minnesota. God bless the Midwest!

When I attend the contemporary service, I sometimes toy with the idea of raising my hands in the air (like I don't care). But I do care. I can't lose myself in church - its not a rock concert. Maybe that's part of it...I see my relationship with God as serious (I can write about His humor another time). To me, He is powerful and holy, just like that church I grew up in. I want my worship to reflect that level of seriousness. And that requires me to keep my hands to myself. If I ever do get my hands in the air, I'll let you know. It might be sooner than either of us imagines.

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