Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Leaving Church

"Leaving Church" is the title of the book I finished reading about an hour ago. It's the memoir of an Episcopal priest who felt the call of God on her life early on, went to seminary, became an ordained minister, only to leave the pulpit ten years later. Soon after leaving church - at least as a minister - she penned these words:

Gradually I remember what I had known all along, which is that church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God's presence in this world. By offering people a place where they may engage the steady practice of listening to divine words and celebrating divine sacraments, church can help people gain a feel for how God shows up - not only in Holy Bibles and Holy Commjunion, but also in near neighbors, mysterious strangers, sliced bread, and grocery store wine. That way, when they leave church, they no more leave God than God leaves them. They simply carry what they have learned into the wide, wide world, where there is a crying need for people who will recognize the holiness in things and hold them up to God.

There are dozens of phrases, sentences, and paragraphs in this book that I underlined and would love to include here, but I will end this post with a prayer and the commentary Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about that prayer in her beautifully written account of how God has moved in her life before, during, and since her life as a priest, a minister of His Word among His people here on earth. These words are taken from page 94 of the book.

We could even be quiet together, which was something else that did not happen many other places in our lives. Silence was so countercultural for most of us that it took a lot of practice before we could do it together. At first, when one of us paused after reading a prayer out loud, the rest of us would tense up. Did she lose her place? is it someone else's turn to speak? Maybe mine? But after a while we learned how many ripples one prayer can spread when another does not land right on top of it.

I learned to love hearing the world outside while we were praying for it inside. The sound of an airplane brought all those aboard into church - the fussy babies, the slack-jawed sleepers, the bored businessmen playing games on their laptops. For those who travel on land, on water, or in the air, let us pray to the Lord.

The sound of an ambulance spoke for the sacred person lying on the stretcher inside. For the aged and inform for the widowed and orphans, and for the sick and the suffering, let us pray to the Lord.

The sound of the wind in the pines made music that rivaled anything we were singing inside. For the good earth which God has given us, and for the wisdom and will to conserve it, let us pray to the Lord.

Every now and then I would forget to eat breakfast so that the loudest of all these sounds was the gaseous racket of my stomach. This may be the real reason many of us fear silence in the church - because anyone sitting near us may hear the hissing, rumbling, wheezing sounds of a living human being, which do not match up with the attractive countenances that we work so hard to present to one another. Since these are the sounds of being human, I even learned to love hearing them while sitting quietly in chruch. For real hunger, for twisted guts, and for our inability to conceal them, let us pray to the Lord.

I wish I'd been privileged to sit under her teaching, listen to her prayers, and receive communion from her while she was still in the pulpit.
I wish I could join her for worship and tea on her porch on the Sunday mornings now that she isn't in the pulpit.
That's right; often she stays home on Sundays where she reads and worships and sings and prays in the great outdoors. What a concept!

PS. The photo is of the church tower of the magnificent cathedral in Sevilla, Spain. Also taken by my trusty little point and shoot camera last October.


Lianne said...

As one who is contemplating leaving the church I have lived in for 30 years, this post was extremely moving. Thank you for sharing.

Palace of Leaves said...

Thank you! I love the Taylor quote. It reminds me of the blessing of tiny noises during some Quaker meetings I've attended. Once in a silent Meeting for Worship, a baby began to whimper and cry. Its mother, embarrassed, stood to leave. A weighty (wise) silver-haired Friend stood and said slowly in her kind and gravelly voice, "Friend, please don't leave." I don't remember if the mother ended up staying or not, but I will never forget the cries of that baby in the silent sunlit room and how a Friend made a Way for them to bless us.