Sighs too deep for words

Saint Sulpice Cathedral.  Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.
Saint Sulpice Cathedral. Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Sometimes I think when you get a seminary education, you become a really big jerk when it comes to church-going.

You sit in the pews, and you have a really hard time not scrutinizing every word of the prayers, the hymns, and the sermon for theological integrity.  You tend to use your education, if only in your mind, in a way God couldn’t have possibly intended–your inner jackal voice (that’s what we called it in a nonviolent communication class I took) judges the church swiftly and bluntly for its imperfections and inconsistencies, finding it and its people wholly unworthy.  You start using theology to judge the world and its people rather than grace and love.

Are seminarians the only ones who do this?  

I’m thinking we’ve all probably done it–treated church like a country club, getting out our yardsticks to measure the benefits, the clientele, the grounds by big worldly standards and finding them sorely lacking.  At times we’ve probably had good reasons to reject a church or two, but do we do so with righteous indignation, self-assured conviction, or do we do it with humble grace, knowing that if God pulled out a yardstick, we’d all fall on the short side?

Prayer candles in a cathedral.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Prayer candles in a cathedral. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’m not always the most grace-filled person.  

On the Myers-Briggs scale, I’m an ENTJ, and that J for judging is pretty strong, but being at church, surrounded by not just people, but people God loves and who love one another forces me to reflect on my own need for grace.

Right now, my husband and I are blessed to attend such a church–a church that’s far from perfect, but somehow I hardly notice the imperfections, because people are so busy loving me and one another that I forget to look for them.  Sure, it helps that the worship is creative, and the sermons are thought-provoking, but that’s not really the essence of being church.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon at another church on one of my favorite topics, centering or silent prayer, and the sermon, based on Romans 8, was entitled “Sighs too Deep for Words.”  And this week an unthinkable tragedy that took one of our church members from us, there were no words.  On Tuesday night, we gathered in the sanctuary to be together in our grief.

There were no sermons, no special music, and brokenness was everywhere.  And that’s where I felt God’s presence, in the tears, the sorrow, and the shared pain of a community–in a church that knew no better than to love one another and to seek God together in their grief, their sighs, and their laments.

Sacre Coeur at night.  Paris, France.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Sacre Coeur at night. Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I ask for your prayers this morning as you read about our church community that is grieving this loss.  But more than that, I hope and I pray that we all stop worrying so much about the right words, the appropriate hymns, or a perfect theology, and let God be God, especially at church.  And I pray that we let love be our response, to theology, whether bad or good, grace our response to brokenness, and silence, our faithful prayer when the words simply won’t come.  May the God of grace guide you this day and tomorrow and the next.

Amen.

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