I did something a little shocking this morning. I went to church.
Since I quit being a Methodist in a fit of self-righteous protest, I've been back a few times. Like a lot of other people, I went a few times after 9/11 and I also went once after a particularly ghastly week at my first job out of college. Mostly it's been with family for Christmas or Easter services, or to a holiday singalong. I may have doubts about the whole Jesus our Lord thing, but I still know all the alto parts to sing His praises come Christmastime.
Even though I write about it self-effacingly, leaving my church was actually the first painful adult decision I ever made. I don't regret it and am proud that I stood up for something I believed in despite the consequences, small and personal though they may be. That said, as I continue to age and mellow, adolescent absolutes become adult ambiguities. Right now, I think God and I are working on what we mean to one another. So it is with all my other relationships in my twenties.
Maybe I went because today was the first Sunday of Advent, maybe because I actually said a prayer of thanks when I finally got my sight back on Thursday. More likely it's because for the first time, someone in my immediate family is legitimately in harm's way and I'm pulling out all the stops. Prayer, chanting, fasting, self-flagellation, just get my dad through this and make him well and Lord, I will do whatever you want. Whatever the reason, I woke up this morning and felt a genuine tug. I wanted to be at church.
I wanted to wear control-top tights on a Sunday and shake hands with elderly strangers and whisper "Peace be with you." I wanted gentle smiles from pastors and light, indulgent chuckles from the adults during the children's sermon when the one little girl starts dancing around and maybe lifts her taffeta dress up over her head (there's one in every church) (my sister was the one in ours). I wanted the familiar rhythm of voices rising and falling as we chanted the Lord's Prayer, how everyone just knows where to pause because we've all been saying this prayer for as long as we can remember. I felt alone, and I wanted to feel a common bond with strangers.
It was ritual I was craving, not a spiritual awakening. I wanted familiar. I took Communion for the first time in years, but for the comfort it gave me, it might as well have been mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese instead of a torn chunk of pita bread dipped in organic grape juice. And that was fine. As a matter of fact, it was really wonderful.
Leaving church this morning, I felt calm and full. There were no surges of faith, a sudden flash of certainty that Jesus is the light of the world and there was no shame or eye-rolling when I remembered how the very strange girl on my freshman floor had hung a poster proclaiming "Jesus is the Light of the World!" on her door and my friend Josh had in very tiny letters written "Courteney Cox" above "Jesus." The world felt big enough for sincerity and sarcasm, and that being bitter and afraid and angry was fine, go ahead, the big guy can take it. For the first time in a long time, my mind wasn't racing ahead of where I was trying to keep it. It just... was.
Maybe that's enough of a reason for the season.