“I fart, you fart, we fart, they fart. People in bathrooms fart. If there’s a place on earth where you should be able to fart, where it’s wholly legal to fart, it’s a bathroom, for crying out loud.”She was commenting on witnessing women giggling at the gas of another woman in a public restroom. Erika did an amazing job of connecting this to church, basically pointing out that, similarly, we should not be ashamed to lose our shit and cry in church.
When Mary goes to the grave of her beloved pastor who has just been brutally tortured and killed and finds that in addition to those indignities, someone has stolen his body? She loses her shit and cries in that hallowed place, in church. She wanders the cemetary in her grief, asking anyone she comes across if they saw anything or heard anything about who took the body. They ask her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
Mary was not the only one being asked that question during the Easter service tonight at my church. When we opened up our service by singing All Creatures of our God and King, I didn't make it to the first set of Alleluias before losing my own shit and crying. Big fat tears. It got my bulletin wet. I felt bad touching the microphone afterwards in order to pass it down to someone. I tried not to slime but anyone on the receiving end would have to be suspicious.
Jacob asked about it on our way home and I tried to explain. I have been really wrestling with a desire to avoid church lately. When I think about going, it just seems like so much work. I've been a leader at my church almost from as soon as I started going there and I feel a certain, almost civic, responsibility to contribute positively to our culture of hospitality when I'm there. One of the things I love most about our church is that it not a dispenser for religious services. You can't just show up, pay your offerings, get a little spiritual candy bar and leave anonymously. This is a place for folks who are looking for community. So, I introduce myself to people and ask them questions about themselves. I keep my eyes open for awkward introverts and make sure they get a personal invitation to stay for dinner. I touch base with people I know well and talk with them about things I've seen on their Facebook pages. And so many of them do the same for me. It's an amazing dynamic.
But, man, that's hard some days when all you want to be is anonymous. When all you want is to crawl into a dark room, curl up into a ball and wait for God to show up and tuck you in so you can finally rest. At times like these, going to church feels like just as I'm reaching over to turn out the bedside lamp and people keep knocking at the door to ask if I need a glass of water or to ask me one last question or to sit on the side of the bed and tell me about their terrible night.
I've been dealing with some difficult life transition issues for the last few months, in addition to my advancing pregnancy plus Passover really took it out of me. And I'm realizing that I haven't finished grieving over the absence of my friends who moved in August.
I've talked about my church avoidance with my pastor and with the rest of the leadership team and with my monthly small group of church leaders from other churches. Everyone keeps giving me permission to take care of myself, either by not coming on Sundays or by coming and functioning at a reduced hospitality capacity. This is a wonderful response from people who love me very much. So many people are not supported when they need to cut back. But still, I chafe and it doesn't sit quite well with me. I especially don't like it when I start wondering if maybe my needs have changed and I should start looking for a new church home. This makes me uncomfortable in a lot of ways. So, even though I missed a lot of Christmas this year but I couldn't quite bring myself to find some "high church" Passion week services to go to. A half-hearted google search was all I could muster.
So, Jacob and I went to the Maundy Thursday service. It was a good experience for the most part but I felt like my contributions were a little shrill and bossy. This happens sometimes and I know it's also similar to farting in the bathroom. If you can't bring your whole self to church, even the shrill and bossy bits, then your problems are bigger than one night of making a bad impression on people. It wasn't the quiet tenebrae service that I was longing for but it was good to sit with people we know and dedicate some time to thinking about the season. Then, we showed up for Easter Sunday tonight and opened with a hymn that connected me to every Easter of my youth.
I had changed out of my maternity velour sweatsuit and put on my current favorite outfit, which has become my variation on wearing a new Easter dress in my adult life. You know, that outfit in which you have no insecurities about how good you look? In fact, you look exactly like your very best self? I wore that one. As we walked from the car to the church, I reveled in feeling just a little bit under-dressed for the weather but not being so cold that I became disgruntled. This is a very Easter feeling for me. Who has ever wanted to put a winter coat on over a spring dress? And a new one at that? Better to hunt for Easter eggs feeling a little chill.
Between the physical sensation of chilliness and the cascading Alleluias, I was broken wide open. In all my talk of having my needs met and putting effort into creating a certain social dynamic, I can't believe that I forget time and time again that church is a place where we meet God. Sometimes that's through other people and sometimes it more intangible than that. Today, God came to find me and ask me about some things she's noticed lately but reminding me of where I come from. By weaving me back into the traditions of my youth and reminding me that I belong to a long tradition of people engaging God in similar ways. That part of why I love this church is because I get to be Presbyterian and contribute to a healthy future for this denomination by building a new model for how to do church. That, in fact, the reason we sing a traditional Easter carol is that I pushed for it a few years ago. This church would be different if I did not contribute to it. Not necessarily worse, but different.
That's powerful stuff. Even when I feel like there are about four different leadership projects at church in which I should be taking a more active role because of my unique skills and talents, including just plain showing up. I have had an impact here. What glamour does being anonymous hold compared to that?
I found that when our service concluded and we moved on to potluck, my earlier physical exhaustion from a day keeping house and making marmalade had dissipated. My trepidation about engaging people didn't even occur to me. I was home and I loved hugging my friend as she cried, introducing myself to someone new, making sure all the food had serving spoons and asking about the toddler's new Easter dress. This is home for me and when God breaks me wide open, I remember that. It's really no work at all.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)