Mystic Mondays May 9, 2016
Five years ago I remember sitting in the chancel area of a mostly empty church on a sunny Labor Day Sunday. I was eight weeks into my 4,000 mile cycling pilgrimage where I was wrestling with both personal losses as well as the shifting and dissolving away of professional ministry, as I have come to know it. On this particular Sunday the sermon was a Q and A. I was decked out in my tight cycling outfit ready to take questions from the robed up Presbyterian minister. I answered questions about the highlights of my trip, the challenges as well as the discoveries of the trip and where God showed up for me.
Toward the end of the service I was sitting politely going with the flow of the remainder of the liturgy when a father and son rode by on their bicycles on this as-close-t0-heaven Labor Day weekend as one could get. I immediately thought, “I wonder who is worshiping more? We in our pews facing a cross or those two out under the sun enjoying their intimate connection?”
Of course, the real answer is probably that all of us were worshiping in our own way. But I was struck by the connection between my thoughts that Sunday morning and this picture that ponders,
Religion is a person sitting in a church thinking about kayaking. Spirituality is a person sitting in a kayak thinking about God.
I do get what the author of this little modern proverb was going for–religion is out; spirituality is in. But I also believe it is a false dichotomy. I don’t think it is quite as either/or as the author has presented it (or even as I once believed myself). My growing lens for mysticism has me wanting to write my own version: “Religion is a person in a church thinking about kayaking. Spirituality is a person sitting in a kayak thinking about God. Mysticism is expecting God to plop down in the seat next to you–whether in a pew or a kayak.”
Most of you know me well enough to know that I derive special pleasure cycling through the countryside or up over a mountain pass. There is nothing like breathing in the frigid air on a snow shoe trip high in the Cascades in January when all is blanketed in a powdery white. And the few times I have kayaked have left me in a peaceful, blissful state grateful for the solitude, the surprise lift offs of blue herons, and the gentle lapping of the water against the side of the boat.
But I have also served the Church long enough to have tasted that same connection to the Sacred in congregational life. More often than not I can feel the presence of God or some healing presence when sitting at hospital bedside of someone under my care. The sacred moments of singing hymns to a church member in the hours before her death always seem to call up a Sacred Friend who fills the room with love and light. And potlucks! Have you ever experienced the buzz in a room when bouncing youngsters, shuffling elders, busy servers, and families all join in communion at a shared meal from a hundred different kitchens? It’s a like a party in heaven! Then there are those moments when the music is just right, the choir is in rare form, and the anthem isn’t just a part of the order of the service, but a healing voice of angels blessing all who hear.
I do appreciate the church/kayak picture and its attempt to name a shifting reality that all of us, I imagine, must feel. There is something happening and the language around religion and spirituality is at the core of that discussion. But my experience tells me that it is not as simple or as either/or as the proverb suggests. My experience tells me that God is just as likely to show up in the rhythm of congregational life as She does out there are on the still glassy surface of a lake at dawn while a kayaker paddles from one shore to another.
I don’t think that God chooses to show up either in the pews or in a kayak. God has a way of showing up wherever life and love and vitality and connection and communion are present. Maybe God is sitting next to you right now…