Everyone seeks a place of refuge; a place they go to try to find peace. Other times we are looking for acceptance, or time to clear our heads when we are filled with hurt, or doubts, or we want to get away from “everything.” For some people it is a deer stand, others a wood-working shop. For some, it might be a yoga class, and others find it in the Boundary Waters.
I thought about this at Mass this week. I brought a lot of stress, pain, and sadness to that seat. I do so often, but in particular this week. As I looked around before Mass, I wondered, what is everyone bringing with them? What are each of us laying at God’s feet tonight?
This is the different way that I view Mass. In light of the scandals with the Church, and with the politics of administration at every level, I found myself, like many, struggling to come and sit and listen. For some, it can seem like disingenuous lecturing at times. But I could not, and still cannot, discount the overwhelming sense of community. Rather than feel judgments and critique, I think about the people I share space with. What are they struggling with? Health concerns, difficult relationships, anxieties and self-doubts? Sitting in those pews, everyone is carrying something. We approach the altar together.
We have so many reminders of this, but too often we hear readings that make us feel small or unworthy. I have become focused on the music. Saturday night we heard, “In this Place.”
“We are all hungry people
We need shelter and strength
We are one in our hurting
We are one in our pain.
In our suffering and sadness
We are saved by the grace
Of the power and the spirit
That is here in this place.”
We get caught up in saints and the perfect life. There are many great people in the Bible, but they lived damaged lives, just like us. Our own hearts condemn us, but we are not alone. Adam, Eve, Cain, Moses, Saul, Peter, Moses, Abraham – you can find issues with all of them. Everyone had flaws. The greatest prophets, even as they spoke for God, struggled with impurity, depression, and they were broken too. Living authentically is hard, including in the Church. We are supposed to fit an image and strive for sainthood. We can try to fit in and be what other people want, but, to me, that hurts worse. Righteousness and boastfulness of others is really damaging.
When I registered to run my first 5K, I googled “what is a good 5K time?” There were harsh posts that unless you are under 20 minutes, you should not be out there. I guess it is not really “running” if you are that slow. I almost didn’t run. I knew then, and know now, that I will never be that fast. But I have come to learn that everyone brings something to the start line of these races too. Sometimes it is about honoring someone. Sometimes it is about peer pressure. Usually, however, it is about proving something to self – that you can do something, and you have inner strength. I see that in the faces of the other people as we approach the line together on these very cold Saturday mornings. Everyone has a story. In truth, I am pretty sure I am getting slower, but I am still finishing.
I strive to live in community where it is OK to be authentically open about messy lives. In that I do not mean sharing every detail (or any detail really). What I mean is that I don’t deserve to sit in that pew Saturday night. We are taught no one does. But I go because I need that feeling of community, and I need to hear those lyrics. I need somewhere where it is OK to be me.
One of the most important petitions I have heard recently is “For those things that God hears as whispers on our heart. [silent pause] Let us pray to the Lord.” If you need a place to sit quietly, hear the lyrics to some songs that will touch your heart, and close your eyes and lay your troubles before God, you are invited to come take a seat. I won’t ask any questions, and I prefer you do not ask me. I may reach for your hand at the Our Father (if you are OK with that). After, we will leave quietly, maybe with a smile, not because we solved anything, but because for that hour it was OK to just be. I won’t put anything on Facebook or take a selfie to document the experience. Wear whatever, bring little rambunctious kids, come as you are. Life is messy and hard.
This is a picture from a race I just ran. There are no people — only footprints. 931 people came to the line, ran and finished their races. They brought their pains, anxieties. There is always more room at the line. No matter what your time is. I have come to figure that out.
This is my church when it is empty. There is room for you. There is space for you; I know because this space has saved me. When I can’t find space in life and people reject, disappoint, and hurt me, this is my space. When I am not welcome, God always has this door open. Bring your pain, anxieties. Take a seat; let’s lay them down. God loves us both.
“My spirit exalts in God my Savior
For He has looked with mercy on my loneliness”
(John Michael Talbot)