The honestly of this question is haunting. Again, the poles of love and hate are desperately disconnected in my response to seeing it on my screen. I want to hug this person and slap the Church all in the same beat of my heart. My posture in interacting with questions like these is especially tender because I can hear the pain behind this searching.
I received two questions that on the surface seem to be the same thing, but I can hear the slight difference. I am going to answer them back to back. This one comes from the voice of the outsider. One who’s experience of religion is defined by watching others. Not only have they not been immersed in the culture, but they have intentionally avoided wading into what they see as dangerous and unnecessary waters. Tomorrow, I will tackle the other, but today, I want to speak to the ones that have never wanted to know what it looks like to explore spirituality in community.
I need to say something to my friends that are open to Spirit and have never been saddled by the confines of religious expressions: I am sooooo thankful for you. That is probably one of the most insufficiently expressed statements I have ever made. Thankful is wildly inadequate. But you need to know why you are not only needed in my life, but vitally necessary to those of us that have not known searching without the walls of pre-programmed thought. You are needed oxygen. You are the calm in the midst of the storms of doubt. You are the gift of freedom that I didn’t know I was missing in my spiritual life. To talk to those who come at the practices of soul tending with the freedom to shamelessly explore is a beautiful gift to those of us that have been told how and when to think and study.
Years ago, I went to California on a spiritual quest of sorts. During my days away, I stayed at a retreat center that was filled with students and teachers of many disciplines. I was in awe of the freedom to encounter God in art, yoga, food, conversation, prayer and silence. I was challenged to think outside of my ideas of “retreating” and connection. It was one of the first times that I had allowed myself to label something so seemingly un-Christian as spiritual. It has taken me a lifetime to open myself up to the possibility that perhaps we (the only religious tribe I have ever belonged to) don’t have all of the answers. This is blasphemous to my previous channels of thought. This reality has emerged from my intentional welcome of those that are excited to learn about the Divine without the trappings of religion.
It is important for me to say these things so that you understand that my answer to this question is based in my love for, friendship with and deep concern for those that have allowed me to see their spiritually curious spaces. Without this gift of invitation, I could not say what I’m about to say. What if I love God but cannot find a reason to walk in the doors of the Church? Then don’t. Please don’t. With all of the love that I have in my heart for your curious and questioning self, hear me out. If you don’t think that the Church will bring life to your soul, it is not for you. If you don’t think that your best version of spiritual community is waiting for you in the Church, keep looking. If you have not experienced a welcome and openness that feels like a breath of fresh air, the Church is not the place for you.
For many, religious or not, the expectation is that answers and truth are found in churches. For some, that is the case. There are people worldwide that have sought and found thriving spiritual community in the Church. But this question says so much. The wording is not lost on me. This seeker has an established love of the Creator. There is connection to a Higher Power that is thriving and hopeful. That is more than I can say for many people that find themselves lost in their soul, yet sitting on the pews of churches today.
As I tend to do, let me see if there is a different question that might be more beneficial in this scenario. What if: thriving spiritual community can be found outside the walls of the church? It can. It does. It will. But I want to say one thing very clearly. Spiritual community is necessary. Walking alongside people that push you to see new growth and long for connection is one of life’s greatest blessings. Having others that know your story and heart is not only soul feeding, it is what draws you to know more fully all that you are created to be. I would not be who I am without those that have stood beside me, especially in times of spiritual homelessness. Rather than feeling regretful or guilty about not wanting to go to church, what if instead, the focus turned to intentional community. Perhaps it is a friend that you commit to read with? Maybe it is group that you know values the same hope that you seek? May we be willing to see how community and connection are being offered all around us and in those moments, may we recognize that THOSE are the doors that we need to walk through.