Last week in church, J was asked to offer a meditation about the role of ‘personal worship’ as a discipline of our faith community. As part of his meditation, he mentioned Kathleen Norris’s lovely collection of essays The Cloister Walk, in which Norris recounts her meandering spiritual journey. Though I’d never read the book, J told me I should read the essay he was going to mention. So I did. He warned me that I might not like what was in it. And I didn’t. But it was important for me to read.
That’s why I’m quoting the opening to the essay here, of course. Maybe you’ll see what made me uncomfortable. Maybe you won’t.
Not long ago, I was asked by a college student how I could stand to go to church, how I could stand the hypocrisy of Christians. I had one of my rare inspirations, when I know the right thing to say, and I replied, “The only hypocrite I have to worry about on Sunday morning is myself.”
The church has had a hardening of the arteries in the sixteen hundred years or so since Ambrose, then the bishop of Milan, welcomed the convert Augustine into the body of Christ. Theological fine-tuning, some of it unfortunately inspired by Augustine himself, has led us to forget that Christian worship is not, in the words of Margaret Miles, “primarily a gathering of the like-minded” but a gathering of people “to be with one another in the acknowledgment that human existence originates in and is drawn towards love.”
Even when I find church boring, I try to hold this in mind as a possibility: like all the other fools who have dragged themselves to church on Sunday morning, including the pastor, I am there because I need to be reminded that love can be at the center of all things, if we will only keep it there. The worship service will most likely not offer an aesthetically pleasing experience, great theological insight, or emotional release, although any and all of those things are possible, and precious on the rare occasions when they occur….
– from pp. 346-347 of The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).
So what do you think about when you read something like this?