Recovering Mysticism: Part One

I walk into church on Sunday morning. I see people I know and love, I say hi, I laugh. I walk over to get coffee at the coffee bar, a line standing out to the door like it’s Starbucks on a Monday morning. Parents are toting their kids – some crying, some cheerful – to the nursery located just outside the auditorium doors. I walk through the auditorium; two huge screens display pictures of mountains or birds or what-have-you. I sit down in a plastic chair. I sing songs with some of the worst lyrics known to man, wishing they made me feel something other than ‘cringe’ (which yes, is an entire emotion. Looking at you, Sloppy Wet Kiss). The preacher walks out onto the stage; too far away for me to see his face, but at least it’s up on the big screens. I listen to a sermon. It’s a good one – nothing new or exciting, per se. Nothing that shakes me at my core or gives me a new perspective, but it’s a good one.

I leave the building – a big, square, unimaginative thing built to pack people in several times a morning. Space and efficiency are the names of the church-building game.

This experience has repeated itself in every church I’ve ever attended – with the strength of each element varying, of course.

Many wonder why people – especially people my age, in their twenties – are leaving the church. They wonder especially why they’re leaving the church for things like Paganism and Wicca.

I don’t wonder.

Living in Omaha, I made a friend. His name was Erik, and he worked at the bar across the street from the coffeeshop I frequented. He was the first Pagan I ever met, and I loved him. He was a tall, plaid-wearing, mid-fifties Jack of all trades – if you needed a private investigator, a carving, fresh vegetables from his garden, or a fence built, he was your guy. He would stop and talk to so many people, and everyone knew and loved him, and it fascinated me.

I would stop in at the bar after I finished my walks downtown and back – hot, sweaty, and ready to be refreshed by a ginger beer + bitters. He gave them to me for free, and I would sit in the cool air and talk with him.

He was excited to be a Pagan. We first met because I was reading Norse Myths and sketching, and he stopped by my table on his way out to chat with me about it.

(How often have you been reading the Bible, and had a Christian walk up, excited, to chat with you about it? How often have you done the reverse?)

Rarely do I see someone excited to not just talk about their faith, but to be their faith. He was. And, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it opened a line of thinking in my subconscious.

I began to wonder – what if Christianity, as we know it today, was missing something? I’ve always blamed people for not being excited enough about it, for not living it like they should. But what if it was the institution?

And there, I believe, lies one of the main problems. Christianity today is an institution. It’s corporate.

Not far from where I met Erik sits a Cathedral. And stepping into this Cathedral is one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not Catholic – that didn’t matter.

st cecelias
photo of St. Cecelia’s courtesy of Yelp

It was magnificent. Every single detail about the building was designed with love and care and imagination. With worship. Inside, the very air you breathed felt like worship. You could tell just walking in – this place had been bathed in prayer. It had been built to do so.

God was there.

Without exaggeration, never once have I walked into a modern American church building and felt that. Never once.

I cried, for no reason I could name. I sat, and I prayed, and I cried, and I felt both convicted and refreshed. Convicted of what? I didn’t know. I just knew that in that moment, something had been planted in the dry soil of my faith.

I had no idea just how big it would grow.

 

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11 thoughts on “Recovering Mysticism: Part One”

  1. I know what you mean about the missing ingredient of awe/wonder. I’m so thankful for my church—it’s the people and the culture they’ve created that make me love it so much. But there’s a richness about cathedrals and such that today’s church buildings don’t have.

    Interested to see where this series goes! <3

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  2. I wholeheartedly agree that the Modern American Church has lost its life. I look at the First Church in Acts and I see something entirely different than what is described there. As you know, I’m a pastor’s kid and a Pentecostal and my family pastors a Pentecostal Church here in CA. There’s a lot of life here. But we had to cultivate that when we came here and we had to break down a lot of barriers. And we still have a long way to go. A lot of the reason for the lifelessness if the church isn’t because of a lack of movement of the Spirit. It’s because of a lack of response or commitment from people. In our case, that is. I’ve been to other churches where… the Spirit just isn’t there. Every church is different. Thank God there are churches out there that are grabbing hold of Jesus’ original vision in Acts for what Church should look like. It’s interesting also that churches in places like China, where Christians are persecuted daily, the Church is thriving and full of life and miracles are being performed daily. Hmmm… could there be a correlation between persecution and spiritual revival? I believe the Church in America has grown comfortable in their freedom. And that comfort has turned to complacency. We see it in other aspects of our culture as well. And it’s something the Lord has given me as my message in life. I believe the Lord is raising up a new breed of Christian though. And I will be counted among their number.

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    1. I TOTALLY agree it’s not due to a lack of movement in the Spirit; He’s 100% not to blame. I’m excited to talk about my thoughts + discoveries on the subject! Do you know Transformation Church? I L O V E them. They’re one of the few (while I’ve never been, only watched their sermons on YouTube) where you can truly feel God /at work/ and it’s AMAZING. I’m so impressed + pleased with everything happening at your church!!

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      1. I’m excited to read more! :) I haven’t heard of Transformation, but I love watching what God is doing at UPPERROOM in Dallas. I adore their raw, child-like sense of life and wonder for Jesus. I watch their services and am blown away about how it’s all about Him and there’s such LIFE in that!

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  3. Absolutely FANTASTIC post. This exactly. This is what led some in my family to leave modern, institutionalized church in the first place. This is the struggle I still face with many churches: it’s all so commercial.

    Well written, well said, and I agree. But then, you knew that already. <3

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  4. While I don’t want to be proud and say I completely understand, but I have felt what you’re talking about So So So much. This was me a few years ago (and sometimes still to a certain extent,) minus the pagan. But I was also kinda angsty and confused disenfranchised and miserably unhappy at times. I had been praying so hard for things to become clear to me or for my feelings that felt wrong to go away, or for God to show my parents a different church. I don’t think I would have left the faith, but I starting to totally tune out and just resign myself to life now. (Growing up with a grandfather as a pastor in a small community church give you some pretty high expectations for things.) It wasn’t until my brother started going to a Calvary chapel in a YMCA gymnasium and accompanying him a few times I really started to feel the desire to want to go back to church. It’s not perfect but I really feel it’s been pretty much what I was longing for. The pastor preaches expository preaching, the church is smaller and the people are friendly. There’s plenty of young people (even if most of them seem to be young married :P ) I don’t always like the music but I feel the the music guy picks the music to be meaningful and connect with the message. However my favorite Christmas tradition is to go to a liturgical church and hear the lessons and carols. There’s something about worshiping and singing hymns and songs in those churches that just feels so amazing. I don’t that I would call it mysticism but I totally agree that most times it seems we have lost our wonder. I really struggled going to a large church while away I sing my brother. I cried. Sorry I hope these rambles make sense and that it doesn’t sound like I am going off saying I understand and maybe being off in left field.

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  5. I’m super interested in this series! I relate to feeling the difference between a regular, modern church and an older one more intricately designed. I just have this longing for aesthetic and spiritual richness to intersect each other and make life more interesting. I guess that could fall under elements of mysticism. I just like the word anyway, makes me think of mystery and mist and that feels storyful.

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