Monday, August 15, 2011

Sundays are Different

It's still slightly . . . well, not "weird," I guess, but noticeably different to wake up on Sunday and realize that my time's my own.  I don't have to rush to shower and shave and truss up in a white shirt and tie and hustle over to the church to sit for three hours of the most stultifying lethargy while pretending to be inspired.  God, the boredom was awful.  Seriously, the most restful thing about those 3 hours was that I knew I could turn my brain completely off.  There was some therapeutic value in that, I suppose.

I see lots of people who leave the Mormon church and quickly become agnostic or even atheist.  After some initial puzzlement about this, I now think it's quite understandable.  If you escape an extremely overbearing, demanding, authoritarian religious culture that claims to be God's sole authorized channel for legitimate truth and the keys to heaven's doors, realizing it's not what it claims to be and you can't trust it or its leaders, why would you be comfortable submitting yourself to another one that might end up treating you the same way?

I understand all their questions and reasons for skepticism about anything having to do with God and faith.  A lot of the questions are quite legitimate, and some of the arguments compelling.  Having realized that a lot of things I formerly accepted as absolute truth were in fact false, or at best incomplete, my comfort level with uncertainty has gone way up.  It no longer bothers me that I don't "know" what comes after this life, or what God's really like, or a bunch of other stuff like that.  Or that the Jesus I was taught about in Mormon Sunday School does not seem to be the Jesus described in actual history.  The real story is a lot sketchier and subject to interpretation than I was first taught.

That means I have a lot more individual responsibility to figure out what works for me, what resonates as true, what survives exacting intellectual scrutiny with some (any) plausibility intact, what inspires me, motivates me toward the Christian virtues I continue to believe in.

I'm really glad I don't have to sit through the Mormon version of communion anymore.  As time went on I found myself actually resenting how it was administered there.  Like it was an administrative obligation that had to be gotten through so the real substance of the meeting--the speeches and the sleeping through them--could be focused on.  When I was a ward music director one year at BYU, I persuaded the bishop to let us do the Easter program first and then have the sacrament at the very end, so the whole meeting would focus everyone's attention on its symbolism.  And I got rave reviews afterward.

That's what I like about Episcopal services.  They figured this out long ago.  So when I need some spiritual recharging, as I did yesterday, I go there.  Always wonderful music to start the service, of course.  I like the procession because it means something special is about to happen.  Everyone is very reverent.  There are readings from scripture, prayers, more music, a sermon.  Then more music and prayers, and all of that leads to the main purpose of the whole thing, the bread and wine.  The culmination.  And when it's done, there's one more hymn, and that's it.  The officiant says "go in peace to love and serve the Lord," and the congregation responds "Thanks be to God."  And that's it.  Done.  I love that ending.

I love watching everyone walk up to receive communion too.  At the Episcopal church I attend it's not just the same old white Anglo-Saxon families with tow-headed kids sparsely scattered about the pews, men in white shirts and suits and women in best designer dresses while awkwardly dressed boys scurry about with trays.  Everybody walks up to the front, and it's a microcosm of all of humanity: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young kids and white-haired great-grandparents and every age in between, the quick and the infirm, tall, short, wide, slim, some exquisitely dressed and some in beat-up jeans and t-shirt.  All walking together to express their faith and receive the remembrances of Jesus' sacrifice.  Whatever heaven may be, it surely must look a lot like that.

They don't care if you're not a baptized Episcopalian, either.  Every week they say "If you're here, you're family and we invite your full participation."  I hadn't been there in several weeks and I felt the need for some spiritual recharging, so I went.  Sang with gusto.  Listened carefully to the scriptures and the sermon.  Made the prayers my own.  And felt very much refreshed and renewed after walking up to the front with everyone else and taking communion and having some private prayer time afterward.  Honestly, a lot more refreshed and renewed than I remember feeling in years when I was attending LDS services.

So I feel lucky to have so quickly found another place where I can still find spiritual renewal.  This time "on my schedule and my terms" as a wonderful, kind, wise member of the clergy there told me many months ago when he invited me to give the place a try.  It's a place that not only doesn't discourage but actively values and welcomes inquiry and debate and even argument as a way for all participants to perhaps discover new truth.  It doesn't claim a monopoly on inspiration or knowledge of God, and freely admits that it doesn't have all the answers and that it's okay to say "I don't know" or even "I doubt."  It's not afraid of those things because it recognizes that when you're honest about not knowing, or about doubting, you're more likely to be humble and teachable and ready to learn.  There's no correlated pre-approved dumbed-down pablum-esque centrally controlled lesson manuals everyone is forced to re-hash all the time.  Everyone's paths and understandings are different.  I'm glad I found a new home that not only has beautiful music, architecture, liturgy and that wonderfully fragrant incense, but that also is such a good fit for my mind as well as my heart.

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