I hate to sound like I'm prosyletizing, because I genuinely respect people's right to worship (or not worship) whatever religions they were born into, or have journeyed to through the course of their lives. In this day and age, as in most, religion tends to be more of a divisive issue than a unifying factor, so it isn't a subject I like bringing up much.
The community in which I grew up seemed to be comprised primarily of three groups: (1) Irish Catholic people; (2) Italian Catholic people; and (3) Jewish people. We were German Methodists. Not that there weren't any other WASPs in our town. There were. It's just, with the exception of gaudy Christmas lights, we tended to keep a low profile.
As a kid, I remember thinking of religion as something separate from everyday life. On Sunday mornings you prayed, sang hymns, threw a dollar in the collection plate, and went to Sunday school while the adults tried to stay awake during the sermon. Once you got home? The clip-on tie went back in the closet, you watched the end of whichever Abbott & Costello movie was playing on Channel 11, and didn't think about church again for another six-and-a-half days.
After high school, religion and I parted ways. Nothing sour, no great turning away. More of a drifting apart and a general apathy. Religion wasn't a necessary or expedient ingredient in the recipe of my life. Perhaps I'm a faulty Christian for not taking away from church some blazing enlightenment to guide me through life. Perhaps I'm too guarded, cynical, apathetic, critical, or lazy to get everything I'm supposed to out of religion.
In recent years, however, it seems to have made something of a comeback.
Now, I'm not about to run off to some monastery in the hills, or tithe all my earthly possessions to the first church I stumble across. Unbridled fervor in any aspect of life makes me uncomfortable. I don't trust it, mainly because I have found it often is not accompanied by reason, discretion, or tolerance. But I am finding an increasing sense of calm from having found a congregation to which I feel comfortable belonging.
For starters, there's the nostalgia factor. I got dressed up and went to Sunday school when I was a kid, so to see my children doing the same warms those squishy, drippy, sentimental chambers of my heart.
The church to which we now belong recalls memories of the church my family attended during my youth. The fellowship with parishioners we've come to know, the interesting sermons that cause us to reflect on topics we otherwise might not have, the many programs offered for the children, the propriety of doctrine and ceremony combined with the looseness of familiarity and good-natured joviality, and an overwhelming sense of "as-is" acceptance -- these qualities bring me back to the understanding of religion I knew as a child.
Oddly enough, the most meaningful times for me are those when nothing is happening. Those intermittent moments of silence sprinkled throughout the service force a contemplation one typically doesn't make time for elsewhere in the week. And they are particularly poignant when placed in context of a thought-provoking parable or world event. During the course of the service, with a child's head leaned sleepily against each of my shoulders, and My Lovely Wife with her arm around another child, I am given brief moments to slip off the petty, cluttering concerns of a comfortable life to think about the things that matter most.
Over the course of the past few years, these dry bones have grown back some of the sinew and flesh they lacked. They might not carry me through the pearly gates when my time comes, but I'm okay with that. I'd hate to leave so many of my friends behind.
© 2011 Mark Feggeler