I could not attend my usual community of faith and so I walked down the street to one of the closest places of worship. I was an outsider and looked in as the community worshipped together. This came at a good time, I was ready for a change, a good selection of worship songs, and a message from the Bible. It was a sunny day and I walked to and from the gathering with a joyful spirit. I was moved by the songs, the guitar solo, the vocalists, the passionate words from the woman who preached a well researched and well-spoken message. There were moments when the veil of heaven was pulled away and we sensed Holy God was present. If I could attend a new gathering every week I would likely be equally inspired and would go out to share what I have learned with others in my world.
Unfortunately, if I get to know any of these people I will soon come to realize that they are just people like me. They have their flaws, their sins, they fail to see God, they fail to care for the poor, or look after their neighbour. In my foolish vanity I would soon see myself as equal to them, and then far superior. I would imagine that I could teach them a thing or two about worship and then that I could do much better starting my own church.
Eugene Peterson quotes Annie Dillard in his book The Contemplative Pastor*.
“I know only enough of God to want to worship Him by any means ready to hand….There is one church here so I go to it….It is unfashionable because it is ridiculous. How can searchers after God and seekers after beauty stomach the ‘dancing bear act’ that is staged in Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, week after week?” Dillard, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, goes anyway. Her tour de force on worship, “An Expedition to the Pole,” provides the image and rationale. “Wherever we go, to the North Pole or the church, there seems to be only one business at hand: that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us”. “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?…The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews. Explorers [to the North Pole] unmindful of ‘conditions’ died. Why don’t similarly unprepared worshipers perish on the spot?”
After attending this local church gathering I came home and read a meditation from my book of Celtic Daily Prayer*. Perhaps there is an answer to my unasked questions in these words:
Where are you to begin? Begin where you are. Make that one corner, room, house, office, as like heaven as you can. Begin? Begin with the paper on the walls, make that beautiful; with the air, keep it fresh; with the very drains make them sweet. Abolish whatsoever makes a lie – in conversation, in social intercourse, in correspondence in domestic life. This done, you have arranged for a heaven, but you have not got it. Heaven lies within: in kindness, in humbleness, in unselfishness, in faith, in love, in service. To get these in, get Christ in. Teach all in the house about Christ – what He did and what He said, and how He lived. Teach it not as a doctrine, but as a discovery, as your own discovery. Live your own discovery.
Then pass out into the city. Do all to it that you have done at home.#
Begin at home, begin with the people closest to me, begin to build a community, begin to reach a city, begin to reach a world. I will begin right now.
*Peterson, Eugene H. The Contemplative Pastor. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.
#Northumbria Community. Celtic Daily Prayer: Inspirational Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community. London: HarpersCollinsPublishers, 2005, p. 714, 715.