Friday, May 7, 2010

Reading Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, I came across this place where he describes his early childhood experience of going to church:

One came out of the church with a kind of comfortable and satisfied feeling that something had been done that needed to be done, and that was all I knew about it. And now, as I consider it after many years, I see that it was very good that I should have got at least that much of religion in my childhood.
I wonder if I shared these feelings as a child or if I just thought the whole affair was tedious. Generally I think it was the latter. It probably wasn't until my early teenage years that I began to think of church as anything but boring.

I also wonder if the difference is in the liturgy. Merton describes the liturgical Episcopal church where his father played organ. In a service like that, there's plenty to look at: vested priests walking about, plenty of bowing and kneeling and lighting of candles, banners and stained glass and crucifixes. Another thing is since  'liturgy' literally means the 'public work' of the people, the end of the service is an offering directed toward the worship of God. There's a definite purpose to it. I grew up going to Southern Baptist churches that were nearly devoid of ritual and vacillated between intellectual, lecture-type worship services and revivalist emotivism. In these services, implicitly the goal was not the worship of God. Rather the direction was toward the people, whether to stir them up intellectually by means of Bible study or emotionally by means of music and oratory. For many children then, they are immune to the goal of the service. It makes sense I was bored. It also makes sense that baptist churches don't accept members that are much younger than 12 years old or so.

Merton goes on in that same paragraph:
It is a law of man's nature, written into his very essence, and just as much a part of him as the desire to build houses and cultivate the land and marry and have children and read books and sing songs, that he should want to stand together with other men in order to acknowledge their common dependence on God, their Father and Creator. In fact, this desire is much more fundamental than any purely physical necessity.
This is a wonderful passage. It strikes me that he describes going to church and worshipping God as such normal activities. In some of my experience in SBC revivalism-lite (which by my late time had already been pretty corporate Nashville-ified), worshipping God was an activity outside all other activity. It took you out of the everyday, not to affirm everyday life as proper and good, but to reject the everyday. Our common, boring lives were things we had to deal with in so far as they were necessary for life, but they had little connection to spiritual things. It was this dualistic religion that had no way of including planting vegetables and loving a woman and going to church all within the Kingdom of God. Sunday church existed outside of normal life because worshipping God had nothing to do with the body.


schupack said...

very good post!

Thomas said...

Ὣς ἔφατ’ Feeling Kyle

claire said...

I like this a lot. I am glad we talked about it together, too!

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