This morning I step out into the sunshine, stretching and saying the Welcome Prayer. Nature is a cathedral to my soul today, it heals and attends–sings to me. The sun is spilling over the mountain, liquid gold pouring down across the valley, sugared with frosted dew. I pray by simply breathing.

Added to my revery is local church bells ringing their call to worship. It’s 10:00 o’clock.

I turn and step back inside where Jamé has a church service cued in the upstairs den. The shades are pulled to block out the light so we can see the screen. After yet another difficult move, we are streaming church live and catch one song before a long series of snappy, professionally designed, in-house commercials. Then a young guy with a cap that hides most of his face in shadows under the bright stage lights gets up to preach. 

It’s all fine, this, the earnest desire to connect with God and people. Ten minutes in though, I’m restless. It’s not working. A crushing loneliness sets in. Not for God. I walk with God each day. Abandoning the televised program, I go back downstairs for a warm up on my coffee where I stand looking out the kitchen window at the bustle of God’s little creatures who obviously didn’t get the memo about today being Sabbath. I walk back outside to be with them.

I want to be in church, but I want to be here too. 

I perch on the step and watch the little chickadees flitting about dipping and diving for the seeds of the sunflowers with their heads bowed. It’s Sunday morning during the writing of a book about People Leaving Churches, and my desire is stronger than ever to return—to continue my returning because I just now realized: I’ve never “left”. If only I knew where and how to get started again.  

Similar to my childhood home, I long for a place that isn’t any one place. The thought occurs that what I ache for heaven, what I imagine it to be—a place where all my loved ones are together, all at one time, all in one place, for one big party where Jesus is Host. Yes, I ache for that. 

I miss postures or worship, rituals, voices raised in unison in beautiful harmonies, the cadence and pulse of God’s people coming together, leaning in, listening for gospel, for good news, hoping for the promise of God’s kingdom or maybe just another day; to get through this rough patch, or to relinquish worry enough to hope for things broken beyond repair, a dream that was crushed, for peace through valleys too dark to travel alone.

I am reminded of the countless times my husband and I have argued ourselves into an impasse, our minds refusing to give even an inch on a particular issue we’ve fought about for 30 years. We flop down in bed with our backs to one another, eventually dosing off without resolution, only to discover in the morning that our bodies have returned to the other, my leg is thrown over his thigh, his arm pulling us together, snuggling us back together in the night. 

Church is a bit like that for me. We’re not locked in an argument, the church and me, I don’t have the energy for that, but some times I don’t have the energy to be all in either. Am I leaving? I’m here sitting on the step, not a pew. But I don’t want one at the exclusion of the other either. I have definitely not left.

[I wrote this several years ago when spiritually I felt like a curvy, pear-shaped girl trying to wriggle into a pair of skinny jeans. I’m not sure that I’m any closer to an answer about navigating church, but now looking through the lens of Church during CoVid, I’m grateful for technology and for our pastors and leaders who are working tirelessly to connect us to one another and to God.

I send out my special thanks and prayers for chaplains serving alongside our healthcare workers in areas of acute suffering and grief. I’m sure they would love nothing more than a quiet morning like the one I describe here, free of suffering and grief. I pray they will find such a space today, and that we can all kneel and rise up together again very soon.]