Thursday, January 12, 2006

Seeking IV

Announcements, a song, and a prayer later, I headed gratefully toward the back of the church. Not quickly enough of course… The forest of hand-shakers had already sprouted up between me and the door. I plastered a smile over the disappointment that I’m sure must have been plain as a measles rash on my face, stuck out my hand, and made nice words come out of my mouth. I followed my husband through the little crowd, trusting him to read my distress and lead me out to the car as quickly as politely possible. To my utter torment, mere feet from freedom, he turned right instead of left, up the stairs toward the dreaded coffee and donuts. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I begged off to find a restroom, composed myself in the porcelain solitude, and strode back to the vestibule with renewed resolve. I shooed my husband toward the door, making lame excuses to the assembled donut-pushers to the effect that we had to go out and search for a more Weight-Watchers-friendly meal. Finally, we were out on the sidewalk. Safely in the car with the big gray building receding behind us, I let my eyes fill with the tears that were overflowing from my heart.

Tears? Why wasn’t I laughing? It really was funny. This experiment had been a disaster from start to finish. I couldn’t have—wouldn’t have—scripted a more cliché small-town religious experience if I’d been paid to do it. Still, the tears welled. My disappointment pummeled my sense of humor into submission. I felt…gypped. In the back of my mind were all those exhortations, recalled from the Pentecostal years, that God honored an honest seeker. I definitely did not feel honored. So, maybe I had received the answer I had been looking for about God…that I had been right, after all. That the omnipotent Architect of the Universe had no need or desire for an intimate relationship with me. That perhaps the world’s religions really are merely elaborate codes created by mankind in an effort to provide answers to the answerless questions, and to protect and defend some of man’s most basic tendencies…not all of which are positive. It would be so easy for me to climb up on my high horse, slightly wounded but resolute, and ride off into the sunset, secure in the knowledge that "God the Father" is a fantasy, and faith is a joke.

But, of course, it’s not that easy. I could not really claim that God hadn’t honored my honest seeking. How honest was I, after all? How seriously had I considered this "search?" How much thought and effort had I put into finding a place, a group, a person that would be able to answer my grave spiritual questions? If there is a God, he knows my history. He knows that my answers will not be found in a brief, stand-offish visit to a stagnant small-town ritual.

Examining my real incentive for this renewed interest in "church," I have to say that spiritual renewal is only half the motivation. Or maybe less than half. What I really crave is community. Friendship. Connection. A life outside my own head. Someone, something that can pull the energy outside of myself before I implode. I had found all these things in a congregation in the past, some twenty-odd years ago, in the bosom of our tiny Pentecostal church. I suppose I reasoned that if I unearthed a church that provided me with the community I craved, any quenching of my spiritual hunger would be a fortunate side-benefit. Unfortunately, I learned something about myself. I was physically unable to "go through the motions" of the rituals in order to gain the prize of connection with the community. Presented with the words in black and white, and asked to recite them, I could not treat them as some kind of incantation through which I could qualify myself for fellowship with these people…no matter how badly I needed that fellowship. In short, no matter what they may tell you in the self-help books, a church is no place to go looking for friends. Not for me, anyway.

I realize, now, that I have two separate issues to grapple with: my spiritual confusion, and my social isolation. It is possible that the resolution of one might lead to the resolution of the other… I could find all my answers in the right church community. But I need to choose one issue to solve at a time. Which means two things: I need to decide which of these things I more desperately need resolved. And I must determine which of them I have the greatest chance of dealing with successfully. Given my natural tendency toward introspection and solitude, I'm thinking the spiritual quest will get the nod. I'm much more likely to find at least the trailhead to that path in the place where I spend the most time--inside myself. And it is to be hoped that The Creator, unlike human beings, will accept me with all my warts, quirks, personality disorders, and fears, once I make up my mind which path to The Almighty works for me.


alphawoman said...

I'm glad you are not giving up.

Gabreael said...

Spiritual epiphanies are hard. Good luck on your quest.


Cynthia said...

Mary said it best. I'm glad you're not giving up. The thing about searching is that it creates more questions than answers. The joy and the pain are both in finding the answers. It's not easy, but you know how I feel about the rewards.

ckays1967 said...

I just finished reading another book that I am also going to send you...

God's blog.

It is funny and good.

You are going to like, no LOVE it.

It is perfect for this journey.

Ginny said...

I came back to read another of these messages in the bottles. You write good, I said, knowing how ungrammatical that is.
I enjoy reading what you write ... and I have no interest in going to church. At all. Although if I did, I'd go to a Unitarian Universalist Church ... which almost isn't church ... although maybe here it is ... almost church.

About solitude, I appreciate solitude too. I have friends but find that it is a rare friend whom I can be around for too long without feeling awkward and as though I need to get going. But sometimes too much solitude can be .... maybe addicting? It's easy for me to fall into.

Love your writing!

Paul said...

I caught up on your four entries, Lisa. Speaking as the resident Godless heathen, I suspect that your need for community is not going to be found in a church if you can't embrace the faith that brought the other people there in the first place. For them, worship came first, then friendship.

Maybe what you need is a book club. a garden club, or a volunteer program.

Gannet Girl said...

Just so you know -- Paul is wrong. :)

Neil said...

My guess is that most people in Church on any Sunday are not far from you in their doubts, and some probably don't really truly believe at all. You can be a part of such a community if you want to, without actually buying into all or any of the metaphysical propositions (especially if you share many of the same values).

I am an atheist who has learned to share family life with believers, to serve as a Boy Scout leader among believers, and I am quite certain I could fit in at Church if I wanted to be part of that community (I used to be Catholic -- and the typical American Catholic picks and chooses what he will and won't believe of the Church's teachings -- so I would just be an extreme example).

I still love to go to an occasional Gospel service -- for the music mostly, but also for the joy and communal spirit.

You don't find that at a book club, I'm afraid.

I hope you don't mind my dropping by to offer these friendly thoughts -- I wanted to see your blog, and was impressed by this post in particular.

My point is not to suggest that your internal, spiritual reflection should not be taken seriously -- only that it is not wrong or dishonest to set your doubts aside if they get in the way of finding a place that enriches your spirit.

If church is that place, I hope you find one that makes you feel at home.


Neil said...

Have you considered the Unitarians?

emmapeelDallas said...

I understand your tears: what a disappointment! The only church I ever enjoyed being a part of was a small Lutheran congregation in Chicago, 25 years ago. The pastor went by his first name, and among other things, he was a community leader. He’d stand before the congregation on Sundays and say, “We have some refugee families who’ve just moved here who need housing, and I know that some of you in the congregation are landlords - surely you have a spare apartment here or there - see me after the service.” And people did see him after the service. What a great guy he was, and a great pastor, although eventually, sadly, he gave up being a pastor. I’ve never found another church where I felt so at home, not that I’ve looked hard, because for the most part, I have such a high level of discomfort with the whole concept of organized religion. That said - if you’re looking for kindred spirits (I mean, aside from your kindred spirits here in cyberspace), have you considered volunteering at a crisis center or food bank? I have a special soft spot for crisis centers, because to survive there, one has to be what I call “stable but bent”, and to be stable but bent - that’s something to strive for, insofar as I’m concerned. I volunteered as a phone counselor at Suicide & Crisis here in Dallas for almost 3 years, and made a handful of very good friends.

Hang in there.