This is my Church!

In an earlier posting, I included a scene from the film On the Waterfront in which the character Father Barry (as portrayed by Karl Malden) is confronting union officials on the death of a dock worker. One thug yells “Go back to your Church, Father!” and Father Barry yells back “Boys, this is my church!”

As I was watching that scene again, I found myself wondering “Where or what is my church?” Is it that building 3 blocks from my house where my wife and I walk to most Sundays to attend Mass? I don’t think so.

My church is a setting in which I have an encounter with God. Not a message from God. Not a sign (as much as I would like one!) An encounter in which I feel the presence of some Power greater than myself.

Some would describe these experiences as moments of wonder or awe. Others might view them as some sort of mystical experience. All that I know is that I rarely experience God’s presence in a formal church.

So I know what isn’t my church.

My church is first of all found in nature. I resonate to the words of John Muir whose church clearly was in the wilderness. Muir referred to the Sierra high country as “a divine manuscript” and noted further “Every natural object is a conductor of divinity.” The experience I wrote about last week at Big Bend National Park is one such experience of divinity. I recall too encountering God on an empty beach in the Skelligs of Ireland as well as in a harvest of basil from my herb garden.

I encounter God through art. Thus, I experienced God when I stood before Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks”. I met God in listening to my daughter and the Tacoma Symphony present Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”. I heard God’s Voice as I listened to Andrea Bocelli sing “Nessum Dorma”. I was touched by God as I watched and listened to my wife’s portrayal of Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. Such encounters left me speechless. Even as I write here, the words are inadequate.

I strongly encounter God when I reflect on the human brain which is for me perhaps the most compelling evidence that God is. In the play Inherit the Wind (a fictional account of the Scopes Monkey Trial in which a teacher is condemned for teaching evolution), Matthew Brady confronts the professed agnostic Henry Drummond on whether Drummond believes in miracles. Drummond responds with a resounding yes and points to the human mind as the greatest of miracles: “In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than all your shouted “Amens!” The brain is to me a breath-taking cathedral of God’s.

Most importantly, for me the Introvert it is important to understand that I also encounter God through my loved ones. Their faces. Their voices. Their laughter. I encounter God as I sit with a veteran trying to heal from the horrors of war or a couple trying to find a way to heal their wounded relationship. All are part of my church. After all, the Bible says: “God is love and he/she who abides in love abides in God.”

Some would say this is panentheism, a belief that God is both immanent and transcendent. Part of all creation yet apart from all creation. So be it. All that I know is that God is all around me, not simply in that building over on George Dieter Street. I just need to pay attention.

Reflection: What and where is your church?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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6 Responses to This is my Church!

  1. Thank you Richard for that beautiful description of church with which I totally resonate. For me, there’s another place where I find church and that is in the companionship of animals, especially my dog and all of the dogs I’ve ever had. When I look in their eyes, I see God. When my dog walks up and nuzzles my leg while I’m working at the computer and lets me know he wants to be loved on, the sacred is present. I think of Jane Goodall spending decades in the jungle with only the chimps as her “family.” It totally and profoundly changed her. I think of Linda Tucker and her book “Saving The White Lions” and how commitment to rescuing these beings transformed her. St. Francis said that “All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man.” In the song of the red winged black bird, in the peaceful snoring of my dog when he’s asleep, in the howl of the wolf or the croak of the frog, I find my church because there i find God.

  2. Rose Mathews says:

    My church is the beautiful small Our Lady of Lourdes 10 minutes from my house. My church is the Cathedral of the Incarnation in downtown Nashville, St. John Vianney in Gallatin, Tn where my family & I attended Mass for the first 5 years when moving to Middle Tn & where Father David Choby celebrated my husband’s funeral Mass. My church is on El Paso, Tx & all the missions there besides the parishes I attended for the first 44 years of my life. My church is in all the devout people & priests I’ve met over the years especially Father John Telles in El Pas, Tx, Bishop David Choby in Nashville & Father Anthony Lopez in Springfield & Father Ben in Madison, to. My church is in the Eucharist Adoration Chapel at Aquinas College in Nashville. My church is in my beautiful, insight children in my CCD class. My church is when I sit with my grand daughters & they fold their tiny hands in prayer. My church is in every Mass I’ve attended & everyone in attendance there these past 65 years. My church is in the confessional on Saturday mornings, on Ash Wednesday & Good Friday. My church is in the beautiful sunset, the amazing clouds that catch the sun’s rays & the light of a full moon. My church is in Our Lady of Guadalupe, our Lady of Fatima, & Our Lady of Lourdes. My church is in the communion of all angels & saints. And my church begins with my little family -my husband, my son & 2 daughters & now grown to 2 son-in-laws & 2 beautiful grand daughters – Abbey Lynn & Adalyn Ann. This is my church.

  3. richp45198 says:

    Comment from Mark Miller
    I absolutely agree with your conclusion. In getting there, I think we have a small terminology issue. In the interest of productive discussion (and relevant to the discussion at hand), I’ve taken a risk in engaging in comments. 🙂 In the bible, the word church is the greek ekklesia (and doesn’t really have an equivalent in semantic meaning/usage in the old testament). It literally means assembly or congregation, and its usage in the new testament refers precisely to the body of believers (not the church building as you’ve pointed out, or even visitors). Our interaction with folks outside “the church” is part of our calling in the great commission, and is clearly a primary mission of the church (which is what Father Barry is referring to in his excellent rebuttal). I have a hard time equating an emotional experience with God as an essential part of church (either as part of a normal church service, or fellowship with believers), or even a requirement of belief. Certainly such an experience is reinvigorating, and looking to nature is certainly an apt place to do this (Rom 1:20). In all this, don’t forget Heb 10:25. It is easy for us introverts to downplay the importance of engaging with people, and it’s something I’ve been trying to do better with lately. I see you doing this kind of engagement through your blog, and I’m encouraged by it. Thanks.

  4. Chas Thomas says:

    This is so well articulated and describes how I feel so well. Do you mind if I share this with the prayernet that I send a devotional to each morning?

  5. Susan Bass says:

    Thank you for reminding me of all the ways in which it is possible to encounter God. I have struggled with trying to find a church where I belong. I want my son to be able to connect to the Prime Mover during times in life when he may be in crisis, especially after I am gone from the Earth. The problem has been that I greatly irritate people in every church I have attended, except perhaps the Unitarians. It is reassuring to be reminded of the many ways in which one may encounter God.

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