Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: April 25, 2004

evening

The night has come after a full Spring day, full in the since it was fully Spring. Warmer than winter, birds and animals moving around, the smell of cedar and pine, those wonderful scents of the forest fill the air. The pine was surprising, until I realized the amount of saplings still trying to make their way in this unwelcoming world.

Cedars are bold green, oaks are letting loose their leaves, forest wildflowers in all the colors fill the open spaces with accents of red, and yellow, and purple and blue.

And yes, I did go to church this morning, the first morning in a very long while. Over six months at least, and likely much more, I cannot remember. Even longer back into history was the last time I went to a church completely blind, having heard nothing, known no one. I was pleasantly surprised. The service was not spectacular, that is not my most important concern. I’ve been to the best in the nation, and so my expectations are not for a good show, but for a welcoming spirit. It was all that, and it felt nice to sit in the pews once more. More than that I don’t know. I don’t know why this morning of all the mornings in a very long while I woke up feeling like it was necessary to go, like it was my usual habit, rather than a long ignored task.

The church was refreshing, full of nice people, friendly hands. The pastor was not an exciting preacher, but he preached the Scriptures. When he said he was teaching from 1 John, he taught from 1 John. Very refreshing. I am not committing, nor am I going to intentionally refrain. There’s another church up here I want to try, and then… we’ll see.

On my way over this morning, a thought came to mind, a thought which made things a little more clear. Not profound or new, just a thought which felt right at the moment. So much of the Christian life as it is lived is directed towards the Church. At Church we meet Christ, to save friends we are asked to bring them to Church. Our whole basis of spiritual life is filtered through this lense. This is an old concept to be sure. The bishops were, are, said to represent Christ, to constitute the Church, thus only by communion with the bishops do we find Church, and thus find Christ.

The thought which came reminded me that this is turned around. First and foremost there is only Christ. Christ is the Church, the Church is his body. Only by seeking Christ first, can we even begin to think about Church. Church is the gathering of those who happen to fall together on the same path. We seek Christ, and the Church follows along. If we seek Church first, we most likely will miss aspects of both. Not completely, to be sure, but that’s the trap. We taste the Gospel enough to be content. First Christ, then Church. That’s the order. If I seek Christ with all my being, with all my soul, forsaking all else, I will find myself surrounded by like minded people. I will be led aright and respond aright, so my instincts will direct me as the body itself acts without thinking.

That was why Antony went into the wilderness. Christ alone is our goal. The other things are meant to aid us towards him, to be tools along the journey. We are called to travel with others, to encourage others along, but we are never to lose sight of our goal. It creates confusion and misery when we do.

When we lose sight, the inconsequentials become our concerns, the periphery becomes our emphasis, to the point where we become lost and blind. God calls, but does not demand. When we commit to Churches first, we can become lost with an entire group, blind in our contented companionship. That is not our call.

So, I went to Church today, because it felt right and good, coming from within my soul as a positive venture, rather than as an obligation. We do not work for our salvation, and I am saved by Christ. He calls me to him, and calls me to his service. I do what is asked for at the moment, and consider all through the lense of Christ. That at least is my goal, for there peace in all things is found.

There are mysteries in all of this, mysteries I’m slowly learning to discern. This understanding is very welcome.

Now a small bird is twittering outside, its quiet noise raucous in the calm.

So ends the day.

morning

Again the raucous cries of a jay were the first sounds this morning. A territorial dispute, is my guess. I guess this because I have a recording of various bird calls. The steller’s jay call I have played a couple of times. It starts off with a staccato screech. Each time I play it the nearby jays look up and fly away hurriedly.

That was the sound the jay made this morning, after he landed on the balcony behind another. The other flew away.

Tiny green leaves are forming on the california black oak sapling behind my balcony. Damage done while cutting the pines was not severe enough apparently to stop the ways of nature. Cedar saplings are emerging from the ground all around, in surprising places. This is odd to me, for the neighbor has had an empty yard for a year now, trees removed have not been replaced. This yard is full of new life, Must be holy ground. The sun feels warm this morning, no breeze to bring cool air from higher up.

A few weeks ago I went back to my old church, one of the more matronly members asked me what I was up to, where I was going to church.

“I haven’t been,” I said, knowing this is not a welcomed statement.

She asked, “Have you forsaken the body?”

How do I respond to this? In popular understanding I have.

“No,” I said, “I’ve just stopped going to Sunday morning lectures.”

When a person says stuff like this, it usually is backed up by some kind of theological or emotional stance. Not me. Nor is it laziness. I take Church very seriously, maybe too seriously. The only problem for me is I believe that a person is supposed to commit to a place, and I also believe that Church is significantly more than whatever happens on a Sunday morning.

Too much of church going has the character of obligation more than edification. Very few people I know are genuinely excited to get in their cars and go to church. But, the early Christians and latter day persecuted followers were and are willing to risk death in order to meet together.

So, I don’t go, because there is nothing in an hour and a half sunday morning service which I find edifying, nor can I use my gifts in the context of an audience. I do not say this with glee, and I say this knowing the litany of arguments which can be made against me. I would say that I feel God has had me distanced from a Church, that it is he who has led me to step back, that I feel peace in not committing to a congregation, only these statements wouldn’t be accepted by someone demanding Sunday morning attendance, and are unneeded by someone who does not demand the same.

Have I forsaken the body? No. In fact, I never am outside the body. My whole life is spent in the context of those seeking to find Christ. I miss a lecture on a spiritual theme, and about five songs which identify themselves as ‘worship’. I never worship while I sing, and, to be honest, I get very little out of the morning lecture. I worship while I play music, or while I stand in the majesty of the forest or float in the beauty of the lake. Singing is worship for those who can sing, it is not for those who don’t.

Communion. I have no replacement for taking the bread and wine (juice). That’s a point which I think about. This is a significant act indeed. Though, it is a meaningless rite without the reality of which it speaks. It celebrates communion, it does not create it. I could argue back and forth, to be sure. Suffice to say this is the one area I do consider as missing.

Antony heard the message of Christ calling him, and he sold all of his many possessions, then went to live in the desert. He didn’t simply change his weekly routine, he moved away to solitude, to where God was leading him. Many, many have done the same.

So, it is not without tradition. Only we don’t know those traditions. We only know the traditions which include the focus of power for those who are called to pass on the traditions.

The age of monasticism was begun by men and women who sought Christ, and realized what they sought was not to be found in the increasingly garish churches. To find Christ they had to go away, forsake the body for the Body. Very few did this alone, finding new unity in alternate ways.

Maybe this is the answer in our era, a new form of monasticism, one which learns from the mistakes of the past, which holds onto the dictates of Scripture, without the burden of accreted traditions, traditions which in too many cases are the reassertion of power by those seeking to be the head.

The depths of the church were built by these men and women, the habits of prayer and sober living, the example of full pursuits of God. Yet, the protestant tradition threw out the baby when it got rid of the bath water. Nothing besides hard work and dutiful acceptance of pastoral authority is allowed. This was easier in a time when pastors were really the most educated people around. Now, though, they are often not even the most religiously educated people in a church.

We have kept the forms, the words, the framework of Church, but have lost the meaning, the depths, the reality of a body which comes to grow together, to be edified by the use of all the gifts. So, I consider again my status, my leap into the void, and miss the reality which Church is supposed to provide, as a place to learn and teach, give and receive. My opinion and decision was based on the fact that empty shells do not provide Christ, that those who are seeking to be the head are not worthy of my devotion.

I’m not sure my point in all of this. I am thinking about this morning, and its meaning, feeling at peace with how I’ve spent the last many months away. The Spirit moves more broadly than in the context of a church campus, and forsaking the body does not mean avoiding a Sunday morning. Indeed, there are many pastors, many elders, many attenders who forsake the body on a weekly basis, even with regular attendance.

I yearn for more to be sure, I also will not accept less any longer. If the church is no longer acting as the body, then other formats must be found. The Spirit is fluid, like wind and water, always moving towards the goal. That is who I wish to follow, and in doing so may recover ancient traditions which have been lost and forgotten or dismissed.

My goal is Christ, and I share this goal with a great many other people, most of whom are not excited to be leaving their homes this morning. I want to be excited.

I also will likely be leaving my home this morning and trying out one of the local churches.

We’ll see how it goes. It is how my heart leads this morning, and seems to be the next step. To be honest, I’m a little nervous.

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