As I continue to sit in the wilderness that has been my faith for the last three or four years, I have had a lot of opportunities to think about the nature of faith itself. The words I’ve hung onto for the last year or so are the phrase, “come anyway.” Come anyway, come regardless. Come anyway, any way that I can, and that’s what I’ve done, over and over… and over, and over again. It’s forced me to examine the ways that I used to engage with God and faith. Did I say examine? I meant throw them all out.
My senior project in undergrad was praying through dance. I did my project and concluded that praying through dance just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t connecting to it at all and found at the time that I could only engage fully mentally when I was still. It didn’t make for a very pleasant senior project, but I had a feeling at the time that I would come back to it. I used to engage with God mentally; I would pray, I would read–I did a lot of Bible reading, I mean a lot. That’s not working so well for me now, though. I think I’ve managed to read my Bible maybe a dozen times in the last year and a half, and that’s being generous.
So I’ve been forced to find other ways to come anyway, and that means being present physically. I changed churches last year and began going to an Episcopalian church, and I’ve found so much refuge in the physicality of their worship. In all the other churches I’ve ever been to, there’s not much physical engagement. Sure, you might raise your hands or stand to sing, but that’s pretty much it. In one church, we came forward for communion, and in another, general exuberance in worship was encouraged (think jumping in the aisles, flags waving, and so on), but by and large, church has been a sedentary activity. It doesn’t even include that many chances to participate, besides listening. In the average service, you sing for a while. That’s probably it, unless you go to a church that does the occasional responsive reading or group prayer. But other than that, it’s sitting and listening.
That’s just not possible in liturgical worship. It’s impossible to get through an Episcopalian (and I presume other liturgical services too, but I haven’t been to those yet) service without physically engaging. You’re constantly speaking, singing, standing, walking, kneeling, sitting, tasting the sweetness of the bread and the bitterness of the wine. I’m fortunate enough to attend a church that’s physically gorgeous, and today I watched purple and pink streak across my Book of Common Prayer page from the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass behind me. Frequently during services I just spend time drinking in the rich blue color of our ceiling, the woodwork covering the altar area handcarved by a member as a many-yeared labor of love, the stained glass windows that are open on nice days to let the breeze and street noise in, the vivid red doors that are open as often as possible to welcome the community. And, of course, we’re Episcopalians, so there’s always delicious smells and tastes at coffee hour afterward.
And in all of that, when I can’t tell up from down mentally, I come on Sunday and I read the prayers of the people, say the Nicene creed, sing the Lord’s Prayer, kneel to receive communion and feel the bread pressed into my palm, dip the bread into a silver cup of wine, and savor the taste and the meaning before walking the long walk back to my pew. It has been a blessing beyond measure to settle into a worship that requires me to act. Then I go home, put on some gentle music, and move, allowing my body to speak when my mind can’t, and letting that be my prayer. Ironically, this has now become my main engagement with my faith–I have indeed come back to my senior project topic, and it’s very precious to me now.
I’ve had two conversations in the last few weeks about how easy it is for us to forget we’re human, we’re physical creatures by nature, not just a soul hanging out in a semi-unrelated body. With the current discoveries made in psychology and neuroscience and the growing popularity of somatic work, it’s increasingly obvious that we, ourselves, are fully physical in a way that is tangled up in our spirituality. It’s too easy to forget that Jesus was human, fully physical, in all the ways that we are, and that our faith therefore can only be human and fully physical. Bodies can be uncomfortable; they get hungry and need to go to the bathroom and all sorts of other things that are inconvenient and even painful, but that’s part of what makes us us. We do ourselves and our faith a huge disservice when we don’t invite our full selves into worship of a full God.