Pentecost and Porcupines

800px-Porcupines Two Sundays ago, I went to church for the first time in a while.  Given my current headspace, I figured a little community and a little spiritual reinforcement might be good.

I decided to walk there.  It was only two miles away, and I didn’t want to use any gas if I didn’t have to.  That…and walking has always made me feel close to God.

It was a nice walk.  My mind drifted back to my short-lived walk across Delaware into Maryland.  I shuddered to think of that time.  Little food. Little water. No shelter.  I shuddered because I could already feel myself being drawn back to that path.

The woman who greeted me at the door gave me the hugest smile.  “Welcome!” she said.  I couldn’t help but smile back.

The service had just started.  It was a small congregation – maybe 20-30 in all. The atmosphere, vibe, music, and people reminded me very much of the church I used to go to when I was a teenager.  It was a comforting feeling.

Everyone was standing, but I sat.  The music was good, and I felt old emotions stirring inside me.  I got tearful.  I’m not sure how much of that had to do with nostalgia and how much of it had to do with the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, I found out that this particular Sunday was the Day of Pentecost, the official “birthday” of the Christian church (the kids at the service all sang “Happy Birthday, Church,” which was pretty cute).  On this day, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on the 12 apostles, and they began to preach to a diverse crowd of people.  The Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak in foreign languages, allowing them to communicate the gospel to everyone who had ears to hear.

The sermon was good.  It’s focus was the necessity of community.  The pastor quoted Schopenhauer, who said that community is like a bunch of porcupines huddling together to stay warm.  When people get close together, they will inevitably prick each other, but if they stay apart they’ll freeze.

After the service, I greeted people out on the patio.  A woman who worked for the church asked me if I would help them set up their rummage sale next Sunday, as there weren’t very many young men around who could help with the heavy lifting.  I said that I would.  I then started talking to an elderly gentlemen who was originally from Hawaii.  He moved to Los Angeles for his son’s leukemia treatment.  I asked him when he was going back to Hawaii.  He said he didn’t know.  We talked for a bit about living a life of faith, and then he offered me a ride back home and treated me to lunch on the way.  As we sat and ate, he basically told me his life story.  He used to run a laundromat, then started selling nachos, ice, and other commodities until he earned enough money to start buying and renting out multiple properties.

He mentioned that he’d been married for 50 years.

“What’s the secret to a happy marriage?” I said.

“Marry the right person,” he said.

He admitted that he once got into a bad fight with his wife and told her he was going to divorce her.  When he went to see his lawyer, who also happened to be his friend, the lawyer told him, “Divorce? You can’t afford to get divorced right now.  You should try to work things out.”  So he did.

When he dropped me off, I thanked him for his kindness.  “You lifted my heart and my spirit,” I said.

“I’m always happy to help a fellow Christian,” he said, and drove off.

Last Sunday, I went back to the church, partly for the community but mostly because I said I would help out at the rummage sale.  The previous week, I’d gone to their contemporary service.  This week, I was at the traditional service, and my experience was very different.  I wasn’t feeling very connected to the liturgy or the music, and I found the sermon uninspiring.  Everything felt flat.  Honestly, the most enjoyable part of the whole day was helping out at the rummage sale and the walk home.

I’m not sure if I want to go back.  I’m not sure what I’m looking for in a church, or even if I need to continue looking for one.  I’m not even sure about identifying as a Christian.  My mind feels staunchly agnostic, maybe a little Buddhist, but my heart is definitely Christian.  The story of Jesus, the symbol of the cross, the Hebrew language and prayers…they all have powerful effect on me.  Just hearing Hebrew being spoken triggers something inside of me…

The truth is, I can’t the deny the reality of what I’ve seen and felt over the last few years.  There is power in the name of Yeshua (“Jesus” in Aramaic), though I can’t begin to understand the how or why.  And I have significant problems with religious institutions – a subject for another blog post.  But I do feel that there is a mystical Body of Christ, group consciousness that transcends space and time. And my theory is that the “gravitational pull” of this group consciousness is so powerful that once you’ve connected to it, really connected to it, you’re caught up in it for good, at least for this lifetime.

Not such a bad thing.  Groucho Marx’s famous quote notwithstanding:

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

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