As a child, I spent much time in churches – my own free will, my choice.
As an adult, I have not.
My friend Heidi has been changing that, sometimes intentionally – would you like to go to a solstice service? – and sometimes, it’s an oh-by-the-way.
Tonight, I misunderstood an invite to dinner, and carried a box of books from my work desk to her car.
“I have play practice tonight. I’m sorry. Your stuff is in my car..”
I asked if it would be ok if I rode along to practice, and as a result I spent the better part of the evening sitting in a Baptist church while she and hers filled the building with choral music from the basement.
It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a darkened church. When I was devout, when I was a believer, when I was the only person in my family going to church service, I discovered my church-of-choice was rarely locked up during the day. I spent a lot of time there, in the sanctuary, talking to God, exploring the building with a child’s innocence. It was trespassing, much of it, but I’ve always been more than a little chaotic neutral. There was no thought of it being right or wrong, no thought of destruction or thievery. It may have been bleedover from having pretty much free rein to explore the first church I remember attending – its belltower in particular was endlessly fascinating, and I have hazy memories of being allowed to pull the rope that let the bell sing.
It does something to your head, this permission to walk through a church on non-Sundays. I still wander their halls in my dreams, and sometimes when I worked as a pet sitter, I felt like I was a ghost climbing stairs in buildings with apartments hidden in unexpected places. There were moments when I’d turn, key in hand, and wonder if this was real, this dark staircase, this almost-secret place. Was I dreaming? Was it my past? My churches? My mind?
In many ways, I left the comfort of the church when the ability to visit them on my own schedule vanished. My family found religion and I had to follow their path, not mine. Oh, I tried to love their choice – I was baptized, went through Confirmation, painted crèche figures for my stepmother, spent time praying by the cross in preparation for Easter’s celebration – but I couldn’t find God there. Not like I could when I paced by my church’s altar, airing my heartaches and familial challenges, begging for guidance, searching for acceptance.
This loss of awareness of the Christian god is something I’ve never stopped mourning. I don’t generally talk about it. I can’t reconcile it to my Self. I couldn’t get through the Bible as a child – I tried, but the violence of the Old Testament upset me too much. I flirted with the idea of taking up a religious vocation in my teens, only to have a strong message come back in response – no, you’ve done that before, it would be too easy this time. Instead, God spoke to me through music and nature, and – a few dazzling times – in dreams so full of love and joy I woke up trembling.
But it didn’t bring me back to the church.
Which brings me back to tonight.
I sat in the foyer of this old Baptist church, glancing repeatedly at a door on the other side of the room. It had a huge antique locking mechanism, and in most church buildings I’ve been inside, the worship area would be on the other side of that door.
I finally gave into temptation, carefully worked the lock open, and stepped inside.
The room reminded me of the meeting space of a Masonic lodge. I’ve looked for God in many places, and so I spent a few years in white gowns practicing unexplained ritual, reciting lessons about nature and immortality within the ranks of the Rainbow Girls. Disillusioned by the experience, I didn’t last long; yet I thought about it tonight as I walked through this half-lit room to the other side.
Hallways and open doors took me to a sign marked balcony. Carefully I worked open another ancient door lock, pulled open the medieval-looking door, and stepped into another dream.
Dark, so dark, though the room was illuminated by huge heavily-leaded, heavily-detailed stained glass windows. I found myself looking out over an incredibly large nave.
Oh, I found myself thinking, there you are.
And then I burst into tears.
It was like seeing someone you used to be madly in love with and you haven’t seen in years and years and you’d almost forgotten what they smelled like, and then you open a door, turn a corner, and oh, they’re right there, unexpected, and maybe you thought you were over them, or maybe you had built up enough calluses to not react if your paths ever crossed again..and then they do, and you realize how very wrong a person can be.
Oh. There you are.
My eyes adjusted to the darkness. Those windows were every bit as ornate and gorgeous as I had suspected. The nave was huge and open, wood themed like my childhood church on steroids. I touched everything with my eyes, but oh, I wanted more, and so I quietly left the room in search of other open doors.
This is one of my dreams I thought as I walked though barely-illuminated hallways, up narrow spiraling staircases, down tiny concrete steps. Maybe I’ve been a ghost in these spaces, and so I walked carefully, quietly, until my tears were spent.
Some of us spend our lives seeking faeries, magic, gods. I can’t justify or explain the things I have found in churches with no one speaking from the pulpit. But when that preaching voice is silent..that’s when I can hear the voice of God.
Oh. There you are.
Do you know how much I missed you?