By the end of high school, organized religion had left a bad taste in my mouth. Love was one of the last words I would use to describe my feelings toward any church. So when I read Ben Irwin’s article “11 Things I Love about the Episcopal Church,” I was surprised to find myself agreeing with so much of what he said.
I think I may love my church.
Irwin points out that the liturgy of the Episcopal Church bridges “the false divide between body and soul.” This is an idea I have been rolling around with for a while now. In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith puts forth the idea that humans are driven more by the desires in their guts than by the ideas in their minds. He encourages physical practices in worship to guide the direction of desires.
Since reading this article and book, I am aware that I have trouble making my mind focus on the readings or the sermon during church; however, when my whole body is called upon to take part in the Eucharist, I seem to wake up to the divine presence in the room.
Each Sunday, I anticipate kneeling at the front of the church along with the elderly whose knees prevent them from bending down and with the squirming kids who, when standing, are the right height to rest their elbows on the railing next to their parents’.
In those moments spent between two walls full of glass, my soul expands and rises up to the rafters and on to the heavens as the wafer-dipped-in-wine melts onto my tongue. I struggle to put it into adequate words, but those brief moments each Sunday are sacred, holy, infinite.
Faith need not always come before action. Irwin suggests, “the rhythms and patterns of prayers of the liturgy are like an anchor” when belief is hard to find. I take the Eucharist even when I do not fully comprehend its meaning. I set my alarm on Saturday nights even when nothing in me wants to wake up for church the next morning. I trust that these actions will tug faith into existence. And it has, in some ways.
The church I attend has stunning stained glass windows. I have spent many Sundays mesmerized by the sun streaming through the bright panes instead of investing my mind in what is being said and done in front of me. There was one week, in particular, when I wanted nothing more than to escape through the windows to the wildness beyond. The bottom row of panes was propped open and I could feel the cool morning breathing outside. Church was not where I wanted to be. Church felt like confinement.
But I stayed.
And I came back the next week.
Then, on a recent Sunday, as I walked across the parking lot toward church and looked at the large colored windows, I saw light shining out of the church. The metaphor was not wasted on me. Church is becoming a place where I want to be. I am beginning to see it as a warm, welcoming, life-giving place. The pattern of the liturgy is helping me believe in the goodness of this religion again. I would never have imagined that a church with prayer books and crucifixes and robes would be the one to do it, but it has been. And I am so thankful.
I love the Episcopal Church and I have so much more to say about it, but not today. Irwin did a great job in his article and I strongly recommend it to you. Let me know your thoughts on the connection between faith and liturgy.