- I wrote this in October 2009. In hindsight, I should have put more emphasis on the significance of worshiping within God’s creation – especially in light of what the Western church has morphed into. But then I worry that there are already too few voices standing up for the timeless power of gracious people in relationship with one another.
I’ve canoed the Buffalo River with a sense of awe. I’ve wept at the birth of a child. I’ve been stunned by the heart-stirring truths discovered in a great novel. I’ve heard the voice of God in beautiful music. In so many circumstances I’ve been elevated from my everyday life onto spiritual heights. I’ve had spiritual moments in unexpected places.
We’ve all heard someone say: “I don’t go to church, but I’m very spiritual.” Okay. I’m certainly not going to tell someone they are not spiritual. But I have reservations about this all-to-common sentiment.
Sure, I can put on my Bible hat and say that God created churches for very important reasons. But this issue deserves a more thoughtful response. Because it is my experience that the most spiritual quality of a church are the relationships shared among her members. The kindness, the listening, the prayers for one another and the acceptance of people from all walks of life are deeply spiritual practices. And they are practices that happen in their fullest expression when a group of people share something amazing. Specifically, the amazing, no-strings-attached love of God. This is not the spirituality of communing with nature or reading a meaningful novel. This is the smudgy, dynamic, hands-on spirituality that happens in real-life encounters with other people who’ve tasted God’s amazing mercy. It is spirituality that encourages honesty, forgiveness, growth and the warmest of joys. It is spirituality in a human medium. And I cannot imagine a better medium than that.
That it is so easy to claim to be a spiritual Christian and not be intimately engaged in the life of a congregation is telling. Certainly a passive, “spectator church” will provide evidence for anyone claiming to find a higher spirituality outside of a church. The same is true for a church experience that equates an academic paradigm with discipleship. These, and other church models, support an opinion that one need not be part of a church in order to be “spiritual.” I understand this perspective.
But I believe there are people who are afraid of spirituality that is rooted in relationships. Spirituality reserved for private moments in the wilderness, listening to a stirring concerto or reading a great book is much more controllable. But when I invest in a spiritual life that involves others, I lose control. Someone might challenge me, compel me to see myself more clearly, or encourage me to be more honest. Yet in a loving environment, these encounters should not be feared. Spiritual potency is only dangerous if living a fuller, more meaningful life is dangerous.
Prevailing wisdom will tell us that church is not a place to be spiritual. But have those who espouse such a position invested themselves in loving church relationships? Have they been surrounded in prayer at a time of grief or pain? Have they heard the humility of someone’s confession? Have they been “adopted” by an older church member? Have they heard someone tell them “You’ve been such an encouragement to me”? Have they experienced church in this way?
Sure, our churches might seem quirky or old-fashioned. But some things are timeless and essential. And in a world where people love to sit in front of glowing screens, we are still places where love is real…and immensely powerful.