Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Didn't Go To Church Today.

At Starbucks this morning, I stood in line behind a woman in her yoga gear, her stretchy pants and top complete with damp rings and circles of sweat. Her curly hair is pulled up in a loose ponytail, with damp, frizzy ringlets escaping here and there. Clearly, she has just finished a Sunday morning workout. Perhaps one of those 'hot yoga' classes that might as well take place in a crockpot. She's done her time this morning.

On the back of her neck, she has a tattoo of bold, thick letters: FAITH.

She orders her drink; I order mine.

As we wait for our beverages, I (unintentionally) eavesdrop on her cell phone call.

"Can you tell me - is today Palm Sunday?" she asks the person on the other line.

She, with the tattoo on display, calls someone to make sure: Is today important?

It is.

The truth is, I am only barely ahead of her with my own awareness. Two weeks ago, I asked my worship-planning, pastoral leading, professor friends, "Hey, when is Easter?"

"It's April 24, Tricia," they said, with grace.

Miss Tattoo On the Neck and I could have nearly missed the whole event.

So yes, it's Palm Sunday.

And I didn't go to church today.

I've gone to church nearly every Sunday of my life, barring illness or the occasional family vacation. But I was certainly in attendance on every Palm Sunday. It's an important day on the Christian calendar: it marks the beginning of Holy Week.

The children often parade through the aisles of the church, waving palm branches. Adults and children alike sing our favorite songs, and we wave our arms, singing, "Hosanna! Hosanna!"

We celebrate the day when the long awaited King arrived in Jerusalem, the day that marks the end and the beginning, the fulfillment of prophesy, the walk to the cross, the death, the resurrection, the ocean of grace, the answer to life.

It's a joyful Sunday.

And today, I didn't go.

It's not because I didn't want to; it's not because I don't care. It's not because I didn't know what day it was.

But as I felt the pull on my heart - the awareness of the calendar, the call of the evangelical culture, the beckon to the fanfare and celebration - I weighed it against other truths.

Public scenes induce panic. The church, however safe on a personal, relational level, incites memories and physiological response that distract and discourage, to say the least. I hope this will not always be true, and I long to fellowship and worship alongside the community I love so dearly.

But right now, I cannot.

To go would be to push through, to conquer an emotional milestone, to add my notch to a checklist of legalism, to simply survive the experience.

I'm pretty sure Palm Sunday isn't supposed to be about any of that.

So I resist. I resist the call to the fanfare, the tradition. Although it is beautiful, it may be numbing instead of celebratory, especially as my tender heart seeks to protect itself - even as I massage it to remain vulnerable.

Authentic thought calls me to pay attention. To engage.

Today, as I begin this Holy Week, I aim for something new. I'm not at church; I'm not sitting in a pew. I'm at Starbucks, in my regular spot at the corner table. With my laptop, my iPod, my Bible, my journal, and some studies on Holy Week, I wait for God.

Holy God,
Meet me here. Show me where you are.
Show me what this is about.
Show me how to celebrate.
Where you are.

There are no palm branches. There is no fanfare. But there is a heart in search of truth and life, goodness and grace.

"It's tempting to bolt through Holy Week--to hear the starting gun at Palm Sunday and race as fast as possible to the finish line of Easter morning. Such a sprint is really not possible. . . Our Lord didn't race through the days. Each came in succession with purpose. Yes, Easter is glorious. But if we don't slow down and walk the way of the Cross with Jesus, it is really little more than a party with no sacrifice, a celebration with no understanding.

"Scripture shouts our own fickleness as humans--our own human tendency to go from declarations of praise to pronouncements of deception. When we take our time to walk slowly through the week called 'holy', we must see ourselves: we are happy to cry 'Hosanna!' as long as the King meets our needs, our perceptions of what is good and right and best for 'us.' When he falls short of our expectations, we cry, 'Crucify him!'

"This week called holy brings us face to face with humanity. . . who am I in the story? . . . Am I perpetrator or victim? Am I Pharisee or disciple? If I am disciple, am I Judas or Peter? When am I Pilate, washing my hands of the trouble making Jesus? And when am I Simon of Cyrene, willing to carry the Savior's cross for a few steps?

"Woe to us this week. Woe to us, the people called Christians, if we fail to slow down and examine our hearts, our attitudes, our actions. . . . Woe to us if we dash to Easter and fail to walk this way of the cross through the Passion of our Lord."
~ Elizabeth Sausele,
Buhoro, Buhoro: Step by Step Slowly Through Holy Week

It's Palm Sunday. I didn't go to church today.


Ramona said...

And on those days God meets us elsewhere. When our spirit cannot engage in the fanfare, He speaks quietly to our hearts right where we are. That's our appointed time with Him for that day and thats a good thing!
For years many of my Sundays will found away from church but with a group a young people driving to a parade. Looking back (and reading many of their posts) that time was appointed to listen to them, learn from them and share God's love with them. I treasure the church and its services. I treasure my appointed times even more.

Megan Kennedy said...

Hey Tricia,

I've been where you're at with going to Church and I know God understands and 'meets us where we're at' whenever we need Him to. It took me a long time to be able to go back to church in general but especially our church... the one we grew up in, the one that made me who I am, and the one that holds a vast majority of my "God" memories. It hurt too much and I didn't like church being a negative experience or bringing up fear/sadness/anger/etc. I can tell you it gets easier over time and you work out a new relationship between you and 'those days' at church. God is everywhere and in all things. He doesn't need you to 'sign in' at a church building to know your heart and your Love for him :)

archerwyomrs said...

God is the Lover of your Soul and fortunately for humans, that is enough! is true!