Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Spiritual Homecoming

I was not raised in a religious family. My mother is spiritual but not church-affiliated, and my father at the time was an atheist. (He's now a Baptist.) Fortunately, they wanted me to have some exposure to religion so that I could make up my own mind about it.

A friend of my mother's from work attended a nearby Lutheran church and offered to take me to Sunday school when I was 7. I was a very shy, rather anti-social kid, but for some reason I really liked the other kids and the teacher and went back every week. I was very active in the church until I started coming to terms with my sexuality around the age of 15, when I began to sense that this church and I were moving in different spiritual directions.

Today, for the first time in about 16 years, I attended a service at my old church.

Because my parents weren't religious, the decision to get baptized was mine, as was the decision to enroll in communion class. I think this made those experiences all the more personal and genuine, because I did it of my own volition, not because I thought it was expected of me. So today I visited that font where I was baptized, and I watched some youngsters participate in the sacrament of Communion for the first time, and I was grateful that even though the Lutheran church and I have parted company, I can say with great confidence and gratitude that St. Matthew's put my heart and feet on the right path.

Instead of a sermon today, a "musical" on the letters and ministry of Paul was presented by the Sunday school classes. I'm not generally a big fan of children, but this was so adorable and unintentionally hilarious that I could not help but be amused but also profoundly moved.

Sample of Dialogue

Little Asian Girl: (scarcely audible, monotone) Look, here is a letter. I wonder who it's from?

Little Blonde Girl: (loudly) It's from Paul! (huge smile)

Preschoolers: Yay!

[awkward pause]

Little Blonde Girl: (loudest stage whisper in the history of the world) It's your turn!

Boy: (without emotion) Let's see what it says.

Second Boy: (with an even rhythm, as if there is no punctuation) Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ so that whether I come and see you or am absent I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit with one mind st...str...stirr...

Teacher offstage: (helpfully) Striving!

Second Boy: Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel and not frightened in anything by your opponents.

I didn't recognize any of the people there, except for one. As my parents weren't religious, I didn't know anything at all about Christianity, so I had lots of questions for my teachers. Many of them were a bit exasperated with me. Finally in fourth grade I had a Sunday school teacher who understood that a healthy skepticism is the foundation for solid faith, and she was actually able to address my questions without saying things like, "Because the Bible says so" or "That's just the way it is." It was a rough time for me: my mother was recovering from breast cancer and my parents were getting divorced. She was always very kind and supportive, and it really meant a lot to me that she talked to me and answered my questions as if I were an adult, instead of a child.

She was -- and is -- the director of the church handbell choir, and so I joined because I liked her so much, and was in the choir until I left the church. So today when I heard bells playing the prelude, I looked up into the balcony, and there she was. After the service I went to say hello. She of course didn't recognize me, but remembered my name.

It just felt right that the one person I'd hoped to see was there. We exchanged a nice hug and I thanked her for being so good to me at a time when I really needed it, and I told her that I credited her with teaching me that questioning faith is not only not a bad thing, it's essential.

*****

Sometimes when you go to church, it just happens that the daily lesson is exactly what you needed to hear. So in that spirit, I'd like to share with you the reading from today.

It is the LORD who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.

Deuteronomy 31:8

5 comments:

Silus Grok said...

Sounds like a wonderful gift, a true and tender mercy.

Jade said...

I'm curious to know how you felt walking into the church? When I've gone back to visit home I've hit a few meaningful places and I get an odd wave of emotion, it's hard to describe. I'm just wondering if you feel something similar?

little-cicero said...

"I'm not generally a big fan of children"

So heartless. Are you sure you're not a Republican.

Aethlos said...

Amen?

Andy said...

Jade: Yeah, actually it was all very emotional. A lot of really important memories came flooding back with vivid and meaningful detail.

Little Cicero: No, I'm not sure. I'm not a Bush Republican, of that I am certain.

Spencer: Yes.