Recently I finished reading “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor and the last few chapters are about the years after she left the priesthood that she was involved in for 20 some years. Much of her experience after leaving echo mine. Not just my experience of leaving the Work (ministry) but even more so after leaving the fellowship I was raised in. I thought perhaps they may also resonate with some of my readers who have recently left the meetings as well.
She writes about the seminary. What that translated to me in my experience is the Work or ministry but it could also just mean the structure of the meeting group as a whole.
“The clear message was that God did not live at the seminary. God lived in the world. The seminary existed so that people had a place to try and make sense of their experience in the world, as well as a community to support them while they did.”
I have written this before, but one of my greatest joys since leaving the meeting group is being allowed to see God in newer, bigger ways. That process just keeps happening. I have been praying the last couple of weeks that He would show me Himself in ways I have never imagined before. Not only is He everywhere, but He is still invested everywhere. The world is so broken now and I find myself wondering if God is still here or has He turned His back on us. But I know He is still here. In all this darkness, confusion and mess, above it all, He is here. Now. He is still in control. He has not been chased away by the Darkness; His Light still prevails. I just need to look for Him in places I haven’t before.
I have since sensed Him in the morning air, in the wind, in the presence of trees, in the sky, in rivers as never before. I live in the City so getting out in nature is not often possible but I do have access to the above things often and feeling Him so near in those places is amazing. And comforting. I suddenly do not feel alone but protected. There is a contemporary Christian song that talks about Him being the very air we breathe.
When Barbara wrote about God living in the world and not just the safety of the seminary, I think anyone with an involvement in the meetings will know why that sentence meant something to me. We were taught that the world was evil, all of it basically, and the last thing we wanted to do was be in it anymore than we had to. Worshiping God in the world or even in nature was thought of as “odd” and it made most uncomfortable. Even acknowledging God in the wind or a breeze on your face or the coolness of the morning air would have been “weird”.
But, like she also writes, the meetings had a definite purpose. It was our safe haven. It was our retreat until it no longer was. Until we needed something different, something newer, something bigger.
The author writes something else profound, “I may have left the house, but I not left the relationship.” Many assume when you leave the meeting group that you have left God as well because, in their minds, those two are synonymous. They aren’t at all. Oh, I wish those still in the meetings could understand and accept that of those of us who are still very much in touch with God but just not involved in the group anymore.
Taylor also writes another interesting thought regarding church:
“What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of chastened for not doing more at church? What if the church’s job were to move people out of the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?”
I want to be a part of a church like that.
Which brings me to an admittance I haven’t made before on the blog. I don’t attend church anymore. I just can’t bring myself to go. It’s not that there was anything wrong with any of it but it just wasn’t what I needed anymore. I’m just not the same person as I was a few years ago. This was made so apparent to me recently when I ran into a gal that was in numerous Bible studies I facilitated at the church I used to attend. She was all excited about the new study she had just begun after missing a few years of it, and as I listened to her, all I felt was glad for her but glad it wasn’t me. The older I get I seem to just want to be alone on Sunday morning worshiping Jesus; not with a crowd, not even a small one. The only church I would gladly attend would be with any of my girlfriends who are former meeting gals themselves. I would feel heard and understood there as well as supported and it would be pure joy to be there for them in that capacity as well.
One more quote from “Leaving Church“.
“I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well. Like campers who have bonded over cook fires far from home, we remain grateful for the provisions that we have brought with us from those cupboards, but we also find them more delicious when we share them with one another under the stars. This wilderness experience sets up a real dilemma for some of us, since we know how much we owe to the traditions that shaped us. We would not be who we are without them, and we continue to draw real sustenance from them, but in so far as those same traditions discourage us from being with one another, we cannot go home again. In one way or another, every one of us has gotten the message that God made us different that we might know one another, and that how we treat one another is the best expression of our belief.”
I really like this and it is so true regarding where I am right now. The bond I have with my friends who have also left the meetings is real, rich, deep and strong. Leaving the group affects each of us at profound levels and it takes years to process everything. I prefer small groups to large ones, good conversation are my kind of party. Church is sharing where we are now with God and where He is with us rather than churchy phrases and sermons. I need connections with people I trust and I am blessed to have several friends who fall into that category. I see God in them and I want to learn from them as well as just love them and support them.
Please know that these thoughts are just about where I am now and where I’ve come from. They are my journey; not what I think yours should be. I have not forsaken the assembly of other believers; I just do not get to be in that kind of assembly very often. But when I do, it is precious to me. Absolutely precious.