Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Unboxing

I grew up in a church whose only traditions fell more on the side of what types of food to bring for potluck (emphatically Italian-American), where to go on church retreats (mountains or lakes, please) and the unfailing tradition of always clapping on the wrong beat. But liturgy? Hymns? Talking about the church calendar and understanding Lent or Epiphany? Not so much. In fact, my only understanding of traditional church was what I heard my Catholic friends, for the most part, complain about.

College is different, though, particularly if you join in with a bunch of people from totally varying backgrounds and attempt to worship with them each week. Add in the complexity of differing song knowledge and preferences, people who've memorized the Nicene creed and people like me who had never heard it and sprinkle that with an age group asking tons of questions and pretty open to exploring the new and you've got a crazy opportunity for growth. So, my song knowledge grew- I went from thinking hymns were a four letter word and knowing only one(The Old Rugged Cross, which we sung for communion every week) to knowing many and seeing deep doctrinal beauty in their words. I went from never having heard of the Creeds to attending a Presbyterian Church where we recited one every week. I even attempted to fast for Lent. That last one never went too well. Honestly, the biggest area I really saw growth in was my understanding of multiethnicity and its connection with the church. But my attitude in general towards the traditional? Well, it stayed skeptical. I grew up valuing energy and experience over solemnity and history and that is a hard bias to overcome.

Recently, as my husband and I faced choosing a church together, really for the first time, I've had to face this bias. I work for an organization whose members vary from the most conservative to the most charismatic on a Sunday morning and have lived on both sides of that in my church world. Undeniably, though, I'm more suspicious of the quiet, the reverent. Disdainful, sometimes, of what seems to me to be lifeless worship. But, my husband has very different preferences from mine and we've had to try to find an in-between. As I stood in church last week, singing the 4th hymn of the morning that I, yet again, didn't know I started to think about this bias I have. We've been attending this church for more than two months. We stand and kneel, we recite a creed that most people around me seem to have memorized, and sometimes people clap to the music, but usually hesitantly. However, I have felt clearly the Spirif of God in this sanctuary, more so than I've felt Him in many places that looked alive. There's a quiet joy, a simple knowing that seems not to have to be expressed in much free movement or spontaneous exhalation of words but in the corporate tradition of liturgy and quietness.

So, as I'm entering the Lenten season, I'm starting for the first time, to really explore the meaning behind it. To understand the point of the fasting, the reason for focusing on the weary road to death for my Savior, learning how to join in His sufferings as we approach that darkest of days, Good Friday. Having already been in a long period of waiting and expecting and learning how to deal with disappointment and suffering, it feels like an easy slide into this season. To have a purpose to it, a focus to it, however, feels different and, strangely, joyful. So, I will get up on Sundays, head to my "traditional" church service and continue to meet with God in new ways, even when I can't sing along or am the only person in my row reading from the bulletin during the reciting of the creed. And during the week, as I continue to learn what this season means and meet with my Lord in ways unexplored, I will hope to continue to be challenged to unbox my God. Though I feel I have met with him up to this point mostly in the loud and exuberant moments, I look forward to new encounters in the quiet and the purposeful ones, steeped in history and beauty.

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