I’m a sporadic churchgoer these days. There were times throughout my life when I was a faithful attendee. The Old Man, Ma and I used to go every Sunday. I was baptized and took communion. I read Bible verses and some chapters. But never the entire thing. Not enough grey matter between the ears to keep track of everyone and everything. Especially all the goings-on in the Old testament. So many begats and battles. Bloodshed and betrayals. Miracles and meyhem. Famines and bad things happening to firstborns. So complicated and confusing.
But the New Testament is a whole other story. While it contains its share of death, denial and despair, there is also hope and love and kindness and compassion. Sacrifice and forgiveness. Yes indeed, the New Book is chock-a-block full of precious and useful life lessons regardless of your faith or personal beliefs. Who could deny that loving one another is the ultimate purpose of all humans no matter where on earth they call home.
My favorite stories are the ones about Jesus, in particular, the Nativity and the night he was born. I also really enjoy a good old fashioned Christmas pageant. Especially ones enacted by earnest five year-olds. I never grow tired of such performances.
When I turned eighteen, and for the twenty odd years that followed, I went in hot pursuit of God. My spiritual excavations took me far and wide on my interior journey. I looked under every rock. Behind every locked door. Inside a plethora of books and passages. I sought the holy, the evolved, the gurus, the teachers, mentors, ministers, the religious, the spiritual, the wise, the dedicated, the sacred, the masters, saints and the venerated. It was an incredible journey of wonder and awe. It both grounded me and threw me off balance. It gave me confidence and brought me to my knees. I was exalted. And humbled. But mostly grateful.
At that journey’s end, I found myself in a little church in the countryside. It was a familiar place. It felt like coming home. It reminded me of the little Lutheran Church where The Old Man, Ma and I shared a pew. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t satisfy all of my spiritual needs. Nor did it fill my hunger completely, nor answer my endless questions. But it was a place to dwell, to sit quietly and learn. To witness and rub shoulders with fellow seekers on this bumpy, often terrifying, road.
It was there that this happened.
I saw God in church. It wasn’t at all what I expected it would be. It was such a quiet whisper of a moment. Manifested in a simple expression of love between an elderly husband and his fragile wife. I don’t think either of them noticed that something so incredibly extraordinary was taking place. But I did. The providential witness.
The congregation was about to sing another hymn. Everyone was seated and looking to the Music Team Leader for direction. He asked us all to stand and sing our praises. Obediently, all the adults in the church stood, except for one.
He stood with confident ease. Thin and stoop shouldered. Yet strong. In conviction and constitution. She made a feeble attempt to rise. Her heart was willing. A formidable match for his on any given Sunday. But her tired, frail body was uncooperative.
Without skipping a beat, he reached for her arm and gently helped her to her feet. There they stood. Side by side. Singing with hearts wide open with love and devotion. As it had always been. Now and forever.
The tenderness of this ordinary, natural and unassuming gesture touched me in ways that were more profound than any sermon or hymn or prayer. I was overwhelmed by the presence of God. Just two rows up.
There it was. In a flash. An instant. Grace. Sweet, kind, patient, loving and humanly divine.