Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reflections on My Worship Experience

I'm back from Sunday worship today. It's been increasingly difficult for me to attend services lately. I find that I'm often prickly and irritated by what I'm hearing. I confess that last week I used my oldest son's misbehavior during worship as an excuse to leave church early. My husband was at work, so I didn't have the need to sit there for his sake. As the sermon began today, my mind almost immediately began disputing what the preacher had to say. The subject of the sermon was prayer. He related a story where a backpacking buddy of his began to fall down a steep hill. 2 men in the group immediately began to pray. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the backpacker stopped on a rock. My preacher said his buddy would have died that day if those 2 men hadn't prayed for him at that moment. I cringed and thought, "Oh, here I go again!" Then, I began to argue with myself:

Me: How do you know it was prayer that worked? The rock was already there, wasn't it? It didn't just pop into existence at that moment, did it?

Me: Well, God can use whatever is there. This would be a crazy world if He were continually altering the laws of nature.

Me: Yes, but it would more clearly display his existence, right? It's hard to see God at work, when so many things we attribute to Him can be explained naturally.

Me: True, but he didn't save the man until the men prayed, so that shows Him at work, right? He could have prevented the backpacker from falling in the first place, but no one would ever know God intervened.

Me: Is rescue from adversity the only way God can show his presence? We have to hope for suffering, so we can catch God at work? What sense does that make? What about Adam and Eve walking along with God in the garden? Who wouldn't prefer that?

Me: What if that event happened so the preacher could relate this story to me today and increase my faith?

Me: How egotistical is that, thinking what happened to a stranger several months ago, happened for me? What if no one prayed for him and he died? Would that be my fault some how? Object lesson gone awry for a wayward soul?

Me: Sigh. When will I ever reach a decision about any of this?

One aspect of worship I continue to enjoy is singing. I have trouble praying, but I listen to Christian music quite a bit in the car and always sing during worship. Even if I'm not sure I believe what I'm singing. Today, as I sang praise lyrics, like "but words are not enough to tell You of our love, so listen to our hearts," I was touched with a sense of gratitude. I'm not always sure who I am singing to or if anyone is listening, but I nevertheless felt thankful to be here, to be alive. I feel a peace in my life, even when it's not perfect, when I'm able to be grateful. I feel more connected to the world and to others at those times. So, though I'm weary of my doubts and endless debates with myself, I am grateful today to Be.

And at the expense of sounding sappy, I've been grateful to those of you in the blogging world. None of you know how helpful it's been to me to read your blogs and comments, to be encouraged, and to be listened to with acceptance. I also have a few off-line friends who read this blog and talk in person with me about these issues, and I appreciate you all very much too!

OK, enough mush. Next post I'll review Ch 14 of Keller's book, and then I'm done reviewing it. I've enjoyed doing it, but it's time to move on.


  1. I had trouble listening to that same sermon. For me, the basic problem is people attributing things to God that are not known to be from God - and doing it with unquestioning certainty. This kind of "cherry picking" -- I call it that because the times when the falling men die are not usually brought up as examples -- supports faith only in a kind of rigged way. The examples have to be carefully chosen.

    I still believe in God - but no thanks to stories like these.

  2. I definitely can relate. I've had some really pitiful worship experiences. It has been especially hard on me to be in the midst of a church a time when it is extremely difficult to like any church. I've often been the one to stay back in nursery or take my daughert to children's church just so i could avoid the service. There have been many times i dont sing, and in the churches that you have to get up for communion...i would stay back. Today was actually a decent day. I liked the sermon and i think i'm getting used to the liturgy of this anglican church we've been visiting for the past month. Hang in there...but don't be afraid to look for a new church if you think it might help...those are my only words of advice at the moment.

    Re music....i'm embarrased to admit i've stopped listening to the christian kids have decided they prefer classical music and i was more than happy to honor their request...the christian music station's ads and commentators annoyed me anyways. I'm trying to get into a habit of listening to pandora or put on itunes at night

  3. Ay Caramba. Eventually I left church because 1) I could not fit in socially (I would have to be a completely different person to have others accept me for who I am) and 2) I found it intellectual tofu. Completely bland.

    I, too, began to dissect what the person was saying, reviewing all the problems with it (from a variety of angles.) I couldn’t take it anymore.

    A good friend (Christian) explained to me why I couldn’t stay, “Church caters to the lowest common emotional denominator.” I found that true on many levels.

  4. JeffM,
    Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to the bookclub next week. That's one time I truly look forward to going to church.

    Like a Child,
    I know several folks who have questions about their faith and find it much easier to attend high church. I don't know if it's the ritual or the relative absence of emotionalism or what. I have harbored thoughts of visiting other churches, like a unitarian church, but I do have a close network of friends that I'd miss. I'd probably rather just reduce my attendance and visit other places for my sanity. I wish you didn't feel embarrassed about your admission that you don't listen to christian radio. We all handle these things in our own ways. Music affects me differently than sermons or Bible class. It's a "spiritual experience" that transcends doctrine. I find it cathartic.

    I chuckled at your "Ay Caramba". That's it in a nutshell!

  5. Nice post. I stopped attending Mass probably 3 months ago. It was just miserable for me. As with Like-a-Child, I would just hang out with my 2-yr-old daughter in the back so that I wouldn't look awkward when communion time came. I do not enjoy praise and worship much anymore. I like the music but not the words. I analyze homilies.

    I particularly recall Father's Day mass and was amazed at how much speculation the priest put together about Jesus' relationship with Joseph when we literally know nothing. That dovetails nicely with the statement by DagoodS about the "lowest common denominator." There were feel-good statements about how Jesus must have had such a wonderful example in Joseph and if it weren't for him he probably couldn't have done what he did or something like that and how his life was inspired by Joseph's great example and their wonderful relationship.

    I had an internal argument myself! "What if Joseph was a complete ass?" Literally we'd have no idea. He could have beat Jesus as a child for all we know. Anyway...

    "Me: Sigh. When will I ever reach a decision about any of this?"

    That says it all right there for me. That question is one of the prime reasons I lean toward agnosticism/atheism in the first place. How is this issue so obscure in the first place? How are non-believers able to find any arguments against the most perfect being ever... or how are non-Christian theists satisfied with utter sh*t (pardon) for evidence like golden plates or Xenu/thetans and the like when the incredible, unshakable, outstandingly accurate historical gospels totally prove that Jesus rose?

    I'm baffled and wonder if the very fact that I can think of a thousand ways for god to have done better says more than I think it does.

    Interestin READ along these lines...

  6. Hendy,

    There do seem to be alot of us in this same predicament on Sunday mornings. I read the article you referenced. Good points. DagoodS wrote a terrific piece here that addresses the issue of God's hiddenness in a less academic, more personal, pointed way.

  7. @DoOrDoNot: thanks for that link!


    Fantastic! This nailed it: "You know me better than anybody, and you know what I need more than anyone else."

    I'm in a Christian small group and we take time to pray each group. One of the wives gave a "word" to the group about how god plays a "love game" with us (she read about this via St. Therese of Lisieux, I believe) by coming close at times and being distant at other times. But we are to know he loves us through all of it.

    I wondered how it would go over in my small group once we broke into men/women if I said, "Guys, I've been playing a love game with my wife. Sometimes I'm there but sometimes I totally disappear for a couple months. I think she's totally digging it. I love her just the same."

    No one in a million years would go for that.

    There is a gaping chasm between the definitions we use for ourselves and those used for god.

    In a similar way, I discussed this LETTER with my wife. The main question is, "Would you expect god to stop a 5-year-old from being raped and killed?" The letter asks this in order to understand what goes through the mind of believers. Is the first gut reaction "Yes" and then analysis changes that intuition or is it always just "No, I don't expect it"?

    Anyway, my wife was a little hesitant to answer and I posed it this way: "Would it ever be permissible for me to stand by and watch a 5-year-old get raped and killed without acting?" She responded that it would not. Then we shifted to god and she responded with, "Honey. It's god we're talking about!" In other words, we just can't know his reasons.

    But it was one of the first times I've really thought about how disconnected our definitions are. If the only way to describe love that we know of entails acting to protect the 5-year-old, what definition of love are we using for god? What does it even mean at that point?

    Great, great article. Loved it.

  8. I've pulled the toddler trump card too! "No really, I'll take him out, you've been with him all week. No, really I am happy to do it!"

  9. atimetorend,
    And here your wife thought you were being so chivalrous! At least I'm not the only one playing the "toddler trump card."

  10. "Going to church" has been the hardest part of my spiritual life and is likely to continue to be, as far as I can tell.

    Reading this reminded me of Michael Polanyi, though...his idea of "tacit knowledge," which I think may be part of why singing and connecting with God, even if we can't assure our minds with logic that He is there, can be so meaningful.

  11. Sheila,
    I read your link about Polanyi. I'm interested in reading more of his work on tacit knowledge. There certainly are more forms of knowing than the scientific method.