For six weeks, we’re exploring the question, “How do we walk out our faith in the midst of pain, suffering, disappointment, and loneliness,” with a book club discussion on Thursdays about Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Today we’re coming back after a week off from Thanksgiving, exploring Chapters 5-10 with Danelle Landry Townsend. I met Danelle early in my blogging journey and can’t help but love her big, generous heart for others and for Christ. I hope you’ll welcome her in the comments.
It is Sunday and I am the only one in my family without a temperature.
Without a cough.
Whatever sickness remains in my body can be contained by a red lozenge or a throat clearing at the first sign of an uncomfortable tickle.
My mother invites me to hear her sing in the choir and singing is her love language.
She cried on the phone when she found herself back in a choir robe after many lost years.
It was a homecoming.
So I come.
I find a seat beside a little girl wearing a dress stitched with a lace tutu around her waist.
Somehow her hair pulled tight in the ponytail stirs memories.
My heart nods inside, I clear my throat at the first disturbance inside all those inflamed chords.
I once was a dancer, a girl who practiced for recitals and the hair would be pulled back and the tutus would clinch around my waist.
And all of these thoughts and memories lead me back to a place that speaks sense and nonsense simultaneously.
Maybe I’ve always been confused?
The reasons, many, that my heart, my spirit, can find both the beautiful and the challenging within the church buildings I’ve sat in.
A kaleidoscope of denominations and traditions I have learned and yet none feel quite right, even though I see the brilliant colors in each.
I know practice and routine can create beauty.
I’ve taken the stage and know this from experience.
Yet years have shown that the honest beauty appears when heart is interlaced with mind in words, prayers, actions.
This combination true liturgy.
But today I feel that I’ve come to a recital.
A routine I’ve danced all through my childhood, the background music of a thousand sundays is handed to me on a laminated sheet.
I hold on with a hand both comforted and numbed.
I need the red throat lozenge.
I see newness here though, because I am looking for it, and I have to look to find.
I glance at the young girl beside me again.
She is bent, itching dry skin flaking around her heel.
She is straining to remove the dried and cracked as she bends in her beautiful tutu skirt.
And it makes it more difficult, the beautiful suddenly in the way of the need.
I want to kneel there and tell her I understand.
My thoughts perfectly interrupted by the priest:
“The church has a cosmic ability to change the world.”
I hang on to “cosmic”.
The truth of this vastness.
Beyond where my feet are planted in this church building.
I am a pilgrim not a resident.
Then from my morning reading I remember these words:
“. . God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man. . “-Magnificat, November 2012
Suddenly I see the trees holding up the roof around this sanctuary. Trees?
And they aren’t really, but God wants me to see. And I do.
His creation inside, holding up what man has created.
I’ve never noticed the four branches reaching high.
The little girl next to me reaches for my hand as we say the Our Father.
We lift our joined hands and repeat words from the earliest prayer I ever practiced.
“For the kingdom, the power and the glory is Yours, now and forever.”
I watch my mom slip down from the risers where she has been singing, she receives communion with her head bowed.
I choose to stay in my seat, communion happening in my prayers, in the lozenge that is thin and about to break on my tongue.
I remember Pastor Jay at our barn church asking us all to take a big piece of the communion bread.
How I walked up with tears in my eyes and tore the bigger piece and dipped it into the red juice.
How both the lozenge and the bread made my soul utter and feel connected.
And I am reading a book called LEAVING CHURCH.
I think of finding it.
Church, for me, has always been there in the trees. Especially the trees.
But yes, also in the recital, the singing, the communion table.
The chunk of bread torn or the wafer placed by the priest.
The fire on my back cold mornings and the conversations with friends.
I feel Him here. In this church. Now.
I dab my finger into the cup of holy water.
I take a picture of a four branched tree holding up a church building made of brick and human labor.
“Thin places,” I whisper this as I climb into my car.
And drive away.
To so many others.
“I learned the proper name for those places on earth where the Presence is so strong that they serve as portals between this world and another. . . Thin Places, the Irish call them,”-Leaving Church, Chapter 7.
Have you ever encountered a thin place? How does the setting affect your worship?
Danelle lives in Georgia with her husband and two sons. She loves finding God everywhere and clings to the truth that He sees each of us and seeks us from wherever we are with grace. She enjoys reading, writing, walking her two rescue dogs, drinking lots of coffee and tapping words at her blog, He sees me.