The artist Steve Emery, who blogs over at Color Sweet Tooth, put up a thoughtful post some months ago about taking some time away from the noise, conflict and complications of the church in order to reconnect with God. Commenting on the impending Episcopal schism, he wrote in March:
Why do we leave a church? Because we no longer consider the worship of the others to be true? Because we fear our own faith or the faith of our children may be damaged by hearing what we consider to be wrong ideas? Because we no longer believe the Spirit moves in the presider, and the Eucharist is thus somehow invalidated?
For now I find these questions beyond me, and not mine to answer. This may change.
In my case I did not leave a church in particular, though it was events in a particular church that precipitated my departure. I left organized church in general. I needed to leave, like a man who needs to clear his head at a concert or a party by going outside and breathing some cold fresh air. I was seeing the defects of organized church in a way that blocked seeing anything else. I’ve become some kind of a cow, I think. Recent visits to church left me feeling sleepy and benign, with dew from the fields still on my shaggy bovine hide. I was OK being there, enjoyed the company and worship, found God there as congenially as elsewhere, but I was happier to return outside. I know God will eventually turn me back into a man…but for now I’m learning by being cattle.
Six months later, Steve writes:
Sometimes, when I’m the most confused or hurt about something, my prayer takes the form of just standing beside Him and reaching up with my little hand to put it in His. I don’t see Him in these prayers, I just put my hand in and try to stand still. I have to do it over and over again, because I’m not good at standing still. But I don’t think about whether God is grossed out about all the mud on my legs, the way my clothes haven’t been changed and are full of grass stains, the way my little hand is wet and clammy, or the way the other hand’s thumb is probably in my mouth. He doesn’t care and I’m too busy just needing Him to give it much thought. That’s the best I can do much of the time.
Or, to shift to my current metaphor, I’m just munching grass over here in my shaggy coat, rain or shine, trying to take it all in and not fret so much. He doesn’t withhold the rain or the sunshine because I’m just a stupid cow or even if I’m a wicked cow. He’s just good and I just love being here with Him. And once in a while I hear a voice like yours and it makes me look up and pause in my chewing. It definitely seems to be where I belong at the moment.
I’ve gone on a very similar journey this summer, having forced myself to defer the question of which church to join (if any) until Labor Day. Steve’s attitude of childlike humility is the essential factor that keeps a church-vacation from backsliding into spiritual individualism and rejection of the body of Christ. I’ve tried to resist the temptation to codify what I am doing as something that everyone should be doing, or even as something that will always be right for me. I put my grubby little hand in my Father’s and say “I need a nap” and I trust that He will wake me up in time for supper.