Dear Russell & Friends,
Our family went to church yesterday as we do on most any given Sunday. In our audience of believers and skeptics I realize that some have been uplifted by church and some off put. All humans are flawed. Gatherings of humans compound the mess. Add that church is designed for the broken and you can get a special kind of mess; in my part of the US, fondly and wryly referred to as a hot mess.
Our readers know that I lost my mother last week after a long illness and over two years of debility and pain due to a series of strokes – – the last 17 months confined to a bed. From my viewpoint her passage was an alloy of relief and grief that will be familiar to the loved one of any who has suffered. As we made arrangements I expected my phone to ring. And it did – – hospice nurse, funeral home, other agents of necessary arrangements. Then a second wave. This friend. That family. My pastor, associate pastor, small group leader, Sunday school teacher. I lost count. They knew Mom had suffered. They fondly recalled our three generations worshipping together before she took to bed. They offered not an explanation, but comfort.
Then yesterday in person – – it took 15 minutes for me to walk 100 yards – – stopped and hugged at every new sight line or corner. People patiently waited to bring comfort. And Mrs. Pascal, and our sons, and I realized how much we needed and appreciated the empathy and compassion.
Then the coincidences. The scripture my mother had chosen for her tombstone in a moment of lucidity six months ago:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Psalm 103:1 (ESV)
Yesterday’s sermon was Psalm 103.
Then the hymn that made my father weep and that my mother loved as well:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is Well with my Soul, Horatio Spafford
Those from a Christian tradition may recall the haunting power of the echoing chorus.
This is not an argument for theism. It is only the evidence of my life and of the community that means so much to me. Are there other communities? Yes there are. Atheists may even have church. Humans need and crave human connection and comfort. I would never mock the desire of skeptics to gather and comfort each other. Is music tapping into something deep within our brains, causing the release of salutary neurotransmitters that given you a brain hug? Of course. I’m not arguing the contrary.
Am I aware that I am a pattern-seeking creature? Yes. I realize that the constellations are constructs of our human minds. And yet . . . I needed comfort yesterday. I had a community where that comfort was freely, physically offered. I hope that for you dear friend, whether you believe or not. If you don’t believe, I offer this virtual table (soon this literal table) to be your friend and stand with you in times of grief.
I saw the best of the church yesterday – – not a building, but a community. I appreciate Russell’s unwritten and respectful pause as I began to process what I thought was already resolved in my heart and mind. He and CC are actually part of my healing, as are you. Back to the thoughtful questions of our readers next. I, as usual in times of trial, will probably return to scripture. As this space evolves, we’ll have multiple streams of thought and conversation. You are welcome to read and write in any, all, or none.
Next up for me: Romans 3.
photo credit: Stained glass Brussels St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, by Pbrundel (Own work)(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons