I was born into Christianity, I suppose. My mother was Catholic, my father raised Lutheran. I was baptized. While there are differences between the two, in practice they are virtually indistinguishable when looking at the worldwide spectrum of Churches. The structure of the mass/service, the acceptance of Holy Communion, the rigidity of posture. Sit ramrod-straight in a wooden pew, and keep your eyes and mind focused on the alter before you while a priest or pastor opens a sermon with a crowd-warming joke. The prayers have that same ramrod-straight posture; the words are spoken in unison, and in ritual. I took communion.
I did not really like Church.
I attended Mountain View Lutheran Church for many years. Probably from the time I was around six or seven until I was perhaps fourteen, I would attend with my Grandparents, who are two of my favorite people to ever walk the earth. Nana and Papa, I call them. Papa was the greatest friend I could ever ask for, and I suppose he was also a man of some faith. He’s gone now, and I think of him every day. Nana is still with us, but is too weak to attend these days. As far as I know, the Church still remembers her in their prayers. She has been a member since they made their retirement move to Arizona from Palatine, Illinois in the summer of 1987.
Of course, there were aspects that I enjoyed. For a while, Papa worked at the Church, and I even worked there alongside him during two summers. It was mostly cleanup duty; I would vacuum, stack chairs, run pipe for the sprinkler systems, and other sorts of things along those lines. I also enjoyed the togetherness with my Grandparents, meeting their community of friends, and developing a personal relationship with the Church and with Pastors Lyle, Snyder, and Bartsch.
I do not know what Nana believes today, but I do know that while they were active in the Church and community, she and Papa attended Bible study every week. I went with them perhaps fifty times over the course of several years, and there is where I learned much of my foundational scripture.
Pastor Jim Bartsch taught those classes, and his wife Rilla Mae attended. They were great friends to my Grandparents, and Pastor Jim played a pivotal role in helping me come of age regarding my spirituality. He was tall, perhaps six-foot-two, and his head was trimmed with a few wisps of white hair. He had a nasal tenor voice, an unyieldingly kind countenance, and an ample gut. He was the first person of religious authority whose teachings made sense to me. He spoke with clarity, with good humor, and with humility. He welcomed men and women of any age, and any faith, to study with him, and in the decade-plus that I knew him, he never once raised his voice. I remember a Jewish couple that attended those studies for years. Lyla was her name, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’m only fairly certain that his was Jerry. (Edit: It was Jerry! And her name was spelled Lila.)
That was my first real experience with a welcoming Church community. It was half a lifetime ago, but I still remember their faces, their voices, and most of all I remember the salon-style (and I don’t mean hairstyles) discussions of faith. It was a sharing of ideas, and a discussion of how the scriptures applied to our own lives.
When I started high-school, I attended Church less frequently, then later only sporadically, and then it became rare. I got a job that scheduled me on Sundays, and I used that as an excuse. The Pastors I had grown to know moved on to other callings, or retired, and I used that as an excuse. The truth, as I admit it to myself now all these years later, is that I probably just didn’t want to go.
College began. I attended Church a few times, and at a few different places. Sometimes it was out of curiosity, sometimes out of obligation, and sometimes it was to be with friends. College went by, and I drifted further away from the Church. It was easy. Shockingly easy.
A couple years removed from college, I was having a bit of a personal crisis. Out of despair, I sought refuge in a single prayer. It was the first time I had prayed in years, and it was also perhaps the first time I had truly prayed. I don’t really remember the words I spoke, but I remember the need of my heart. I was desperate for an answer to a question I didn’t understand. I begged for something I had no business asking for, and no right to expect. It was the longest prayer I had ever said.
I have actually, honestly believed in God since the next day, when my answer to that prayer came, defying both my expectations and logic. It could not have been a coincidence. My prayer was answered.
I think at the time, I considered prayer to be a last resort. I was closed off to the idea that it could be a part of daily life, and I regret deeply that I have slipped back into that old routine.
I have been closed off to God, to the Word, to the community. I have been stubborn, I have been embarrassed to be a believer, and I have been proud and elitist. Today, I’m starting a journal about a journey back home–or perhaps to a home I have never found. It is time for me to approach my relationship with God anew, and with fresh vigor. There has been unrest in my heart, and I find it is time to seek peace. It is a journey that is in some ways short, and in some ways infinite. In the end, I hope I will find rest.
Prayer of today: Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, today is a day of great thanks-giving. With gratitude, we ask that you be in our minds and hearts today, and help us to be mindful and present. Amen.