Monday, 17 March 2014

The Joy of Church. The Pain of Church.

So, church.  Yesterday.

I sat before the evening service just about succeeding at not flooding the place with tears - just a small cup of tears, not a flood.

I'd walked in to see the words "born again" displayed on the screen.  That set things off in me that were going to make the evening difficult from the very beginning.

I found I couldn't sing the first hymn due to doctrinal triggers. I tried. I got through half a verse before shutting up and sitting down again!

I sat quietly for the prayers - I'm not able to meaningfully translate theistic prayer yet though to be fair much of the prayer was easily accessible from a non-theistic standpoint.

The sermon followed.  I'll get to that in the next post as I try to work out what I think about it.  The church is fortunate to have several people able to preach well.  They're always interesting.  Last night's sermon was interesting too, well written and well spoken.  But the topic was a difficult one for me personally.

Then there were more songs which I couldn't begin to sing.

At which point I walked out, too painful to stay any longer. I invested too much of my life on a story that led me downwards and the wounds of that life are still too fresh.

I stood outside talking with someone, a really nice guy, who had great difficulty seeing how I could stop believing and turn around from it so quickly. But in reality it wasn't so quick.  I've been struggling with faith and non-faith for years and did everything I could to keep following the old faith because I couldn't conceive that any other way would be acceptable or leave me with hope of escaping the hell that was so often my own head.

And that's the nice church in town!  It really is.  Great people.  But great pain for me last night.

I'm meeting with the minister this week to talk things over. Fortunately she's not totally orthodox and says that attendance isn't necessary - that I should go where I need to go and that the Quakers seem great for me.  She's a wise woman!   That's just as well because I'll have to play it by ear as to whether I attend each week.

The evening was a far cry from "church" or "worship" yesterday morning at the Friends Meeting House. Lots of quiet interspersed, on this occasion, with questions of what "religion" and "religious" mean or don't mean and thoughts of living as far as possible in a way without the seeds of war.  Positively noisy for their worship.  Other weeks there's been silence or near silence as we sit and listen, or pray, or meditate, or think, or embrace that full silence.  Alone with the alone.  Alone with the divine, with God, with spirit, with common purpose, with the possibility of that revelation that cannot come through noise or word or concept.

No triggers. And none at lunch with them. They all have different stories and beliefs and approaches to God or to non-God and have thought a lot. And the differences don't matter at all. I found myself sitting with three ex-preachers and an ex-minister - and I've been a preacher too in my more orthodox days. There the differences are to be embraced and encouraged and marvelled at - as long as there's an undercurrent of simplicity, peacefulness, love, and so on. I like that. The Quakers: embracing difference, postmodern since 1650!

At the end of worship visitors or newcomers can introduce themselves.  I finally got round to that, having been there a month and talked with lots of people already.  I told them I loved their variation, that everyone's beliefs and paths were lifted up and that I love it that those varied paths seem so often to be based on deep experience, thought and wisdom.

I think for now I need to be with those Quakers. I won't predict the future - especially with all the surprises of last year. A year ago I was at least attempting to be, and usually convincing myself, an orthodox Anglican man who got let loose in a pulpit regularly. All that changed, and the unexpected paths keep forming before me.

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