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Church Is Not An Easy Place For Me, And Yet...

From Gretchen Wright.

Church is not an easy place for me to be. I grew up in church, or to be more exact; I lived in churches, planted churches, taught in churches, cooked in churches, performed in churches, cleaned in churches, burned out in churches. My parents were conservative, fundamentalist missionaries in Europe who felt called to save the souls of Lutherans and Catholics. I was fluent in the language of church. But church was never a place where I had my breath taken away by God.

I came to realize that the language of church I grew up fluent in, was a tool being used to separate the just-like-me’s from the not-like-me’s. Separating those who were sure they had prayed the right prayer and had the ultimate truth of God, from the rest of us. A linguistic device used to not participate and be present in this world. A language that no longer made sense to me. For many years I worked hard to unlearn the language of church Try explaining your deep-seated beliefs and God without church jargon. It strips meanings to the core. There were years where I tried very hard not to believe in God, but I couldn’t. I tried hard not to be in church, but I couldn’t let it go and it wouldn’t let go of me. Thin spaces kept finding me.

There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are separated by only 3 feet, Except in a few places, thin spaces, where the separation lifts and we get a glimpse of the Holy. In thin spaces we get our breath taken away by the God. This concept of a thin space is the best description of what kept me and keeps me connected to God and church. While the Celts mostly applied the term to wild, awe-inspiring places in the natural landscape, let’s just say, for me that is generally not the case! Some of my thin spaces…

The first time I saw the musical Rent on Broadway.

Watching a person most might describe as mentally ill dance and praise Jesus on 13th street.

Tasting that first apple of the season. (a Rabbi friend of mine says that in her tradition, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” means that there is a holy encounter with the divine in our sense of taste.)

The Johnson House, this stop on the underground railroad that we can see through our windows, that echoes of faith and conviction and pain and joy of those gone before.

The crucifixion diptych by Van der Weyden at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

The Gedechtinisskirche in Berlin, a church bombed in 1943. The remains of the original church still stand, but a new church has been built around it.

The deep resonating calls to prayer that permeate the soundscape of Istanbul

AND more to the point, the people at Germantown Mennonite Church.

Why Church? Coming to church on a Sunday is still a spiritual discipline for me, a purposeful action. (My thin spaces tend to be just about everywhere else.) As an introvert, (and yes I am – but for those who question that – I was trained to ‘act-as-if-extrovert’ for God during my early years!) I suspect that Sunday afternoon naps were created by introverts to recover from mornings spent in community. Yet, I still come to seek that thin space, or my secret room where the unsayable gathers. The poet Donald Hall describes good poetry and art as having this space in them, a secret room, that cannot be described with words, this transcendent experiential space that language is insufficient for. That is my experience of the Holy. Where my breath is taken away is the holy space where God is breathing for me.

As Erasmus paraphrasing the Oracle of Delphi said, “Bidden or not bidden God is present.”


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