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?