I haven’t set foot into a church sanctuary since the pandemic shut things down. The above photo was taken at a church we attended a couple of years– First Presybyterian Church, solid but exquisite, built in 1887. A city center church community, it is lovely architecturally. And I miss it at times. Though some restrictions are eased, I’m not so sure about singing and praying wiith densely grouped humanity just yet. The Season naturally beckons me to join in and sing out from heart and soul.
Still, I am waiting. Even if safety seems more relative than ever. Marc and I can choose–have over the past two and a half years, ocasionally–attending online services. We share our own spiritual inquiry and read Scripture aloud to one another sometimes. I have a daily practice of reading the Bible and other sources of wisdom. The truth, is my faith is not tied to a building or a congregation. I have been a praying person since I was a tiny child, and God is to me both omnipresent and personal. However, I grew up in the First United Methodist Church in Michigan. My family was engaged in education classes, music and fellowship. I played an angel in the Nativity story, sang countless carols and hymns during this season, and harmonized with my family enscounced in (left side) the pews. Our sanctuary was decorated to add to the gentle beauty; the sacred music was transporting. And there were sweetly tantalizing cinnamon buns made in the big church kitchen by a work force of cheerful youths and adults.
But that was my childhood and youth. Since then, I have attended many churches (and other places of spiritual sustenance–including AA and NA). I have had a few painful crises of faith when life seemed unendurable. I have left more churches than I have stayed with…yet the traditions stay with me as well as the belief. I respected my childhood church, counted on its constancy. I was accepted despite any rebellions, my struggles, though it wasn’t easy to feel often prayerd for, to stick out at times. I still think it was exceptional, mostly helmed by good men and women. I have yet to discover another I love half as much. Much music that imbues my adult life was rooted in classical (and sacred) music as well as old familiar hymns that dominated services. (Our father led the adult choir for years, oversaw music programming.) They brought tears to my eyes as I sang, even as deep joy rose up. I still cannot sing those songs, even at home, without feeling a bit weepy; it is part of my experience. They speak to a more gracious life filled with a greater puprose. And illustrate a courageous, kinder humanity who can be more deeply aligned with the Divine Creator.
Today as I write, however, I am listening to Sting. His atmospheric, almost melancholic album playing is “If on a Winter’s Night”, a collection of traditional songs, lullabies and carols from the British Isles. It takes me to much older times and places, to valleys and mountains that have existed foreever, and the moors Sting must know well…to shadows and drifting light, to silent midnights and slow, solitary sunrises. It harkens back to an elemental part of my humaness, the spiritual energy that lives throughout time. I am very moved. Maybe it’s my maternal grandparents’ Scottish-Irish-English bood in my veins, but I lean into this music. And tonight this music pulls me into winter’s delights and mysteries even more.
A time of turning inward, more often resting, seeking clarity of mind in the increasing cold, and sorting out things–literal and otherwise– as life-giving rain pours down on tall firs and bony trees outside my door in the Northwest. As Christmas nears, I seek more coziness and ponder the ways and means that have brought me to this time. A quieter, softer state.
No matter what is going on, I instinctively look up as I move with expectancy in daily life. I don;t want to miss what is about me, what is coming, But I have no hesitancy of bending my knees, seeking God’s succor and guidance. Perhaps I tend toward being an idealist, even a romantic–I don’t regret it–but I’m willing and able to face reality’s stunning trials, its insistent lessons. As a person who follows Christ’s teachings, I believe in the healing and liberating powers of a revolutionary compassion; authentic engagement with others; and the possibilites of hope which strives to do whatever good is needed. To forgive, to be generous despite my failures and flaws. To humbly accept a small place in the universal design.
It is, though, difficult to claim my faith openly at times. In this part of the country–which I so admire and defend as well as can take issue with–the act of stating I am Christian can seem like stepping into a fight ring. Or being almost shunned, derided. I am not who those folks instantly decide I am: “judgmental, hypocritical, closed minded, far right wing, uneducated in world religions or tolerant of t hose who do not believe in a God.” It is strange to be made to fit a preconceived notion.
So I know what it is to be stereotyped as other groups are. I don’t argue. If my behavior and manner are not enough to offset those prejudices in the end, I need to work on these. But then so be it, I can change no one–nor they, me. I am on my own path to improvement with alot of help from others–and wisdom and strength of my faith. We each will follow our own calling, attach to beliefs we choose. I, then, study a true social and cultural radical’s teachings that includes acknowledging and practicing a higher love, first and last–and wonder how much of what was actually taught was lost or destroyed– and his name is Jesus the Christ.
I admit that institutionalized religions are more a strange puzzle to me than not. I do not understand formal religions’ power struggles and wars, the historical political maneuverings, the various social restrictions. Sexism. (Jesus welcomed women to praise God and seek truth along with him.) The horrific genocides. (Jesus spoke angrily about those who hated others unlike themselves.) I am breathless when I think how, at times, religion’s greed and condemnations can harm us, too. What can it mean to profess compassion–but then harm others? This world is dangerous and harsh as it is, scarred by outrage, hopelessness and suffering. We need more care and courage. We need to rise up in Light.
I go about my quiet search for truths. I keep it fairly simple and to the point. I sense God, seek to discover God– and God finds me in everyday life, in nature, through people of every sort. And this is the source of any courage, strength and hope that has centered and deepened me in all the ways I need it.
I didn;t grow up wearing a cross or seeing crosses in our rooms. But I’m pleased I don’t have to hide my Celtic cross in public. For decades I worked in places it was deemed unacceptable to note one’s religion or politics, especially if they happened to just be unpopular. So today I wore my cross out on my sweater as I ran errands–as I do more often since retirement. Plus, it is the Advent Season so it has meaning to me. (Even though I don’t necessarily think Jesus was born this time of year. Sources indicate it was likely June since it is said his parents, Joseph and Mary, were going to register to be taxed in Bethlehem.) I value it; it was also given to me long ago by my husband. It speaks of a welcome to God, meant to offer peace, wholeness and universal, everlasting love. At least, that is how I see it. It gives inspiration to meditate when I see it. I remember I am part of God; God is part of me. And you. I wear it respectfully as a Christian symbol, as others wear symbols of their faith or other beliefs.
We can each become wiser, I am certain of that. Or we can try to act as if we have decent insight and see if we gain smarter, better ones. We can be more charitable, that is for sure–whoever we are, wherever we live. Motivation for acts of consideration are within our grasp, as are the good outcomes. Charity, the seed of which lives within us, is a celebratory act any day of the year, I remind myself. I lately think of it more as I searchg for unique gifts for those I know well– or donate money or needed items to those I don’t know and likely will never meet. We all do our bit and how easy to give to another.
Well, Sting’s CD has ended. I am appreciative of his creative wealth shared; I’ve listened to him for years. But now traditional Celtic Christmas music plays on. Carols of another place delight me. It is that sort of night, one of shdaow and light. A touch of mystery in the air. I study our small fake tree–we will not cut down a real one, anymore, it seems. I may miss the pungent piney scent. But this is pleasing, too, as it’s now decorated with white lights twinkling and decades-old ornaments, some of which I decoupaged at 24.
I sure hope–there’s hope again, carrying worries, dreams, my whole messy self–our family can come Christimas Eve and/or Day. I keep acting like it will happen. No matter what we do, I’m here and grateful for that. Ready for more joy. We have missed some holidays, just being together. I think most people desire good times with beloved families.
I can’t wait to sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” though “Jingle Bells” is our twin granddaughters’ favorite right now. Sugar cookies and more. Gift swap. Dinner, brunch and laughter. To gaze at their faces, hear their voices more.
May you and yours enjoy–or create–meaningful traditions during the coming holidays.