Humans want to connect to each other. As clergy, we want them to want to connect with God, and they often do. That is to say, they often both want to connect to God and indeed, often connect to God in churches. But what I notice most in people is a desire to connect with each other. And that is so much harder. It takes more work. It requires more vulnerability. It demands more emotional and social intelligence.
To bow to an altar is quite easy. It’s a block of wood or stone. It may have a cross behind it and candles on it. One can have the luxury of imagining the God one has decided exists (often a God who looks a lot like the decider) and then bow to it. At best, we are bowing to our fantasy. At worst, we are bowing the the golden image we have made in our own self-image. Most of us fall between these poles.
People walk through the doors of a church and we like to think that the beauty of the building is what captivates them. It does not, though it does impress at times. People walk through the doors of a church and we like to think that the fascinating programs are what captivates them. They do not, though they are interested at times. People walk through the doors of a church and we like to think that the holiness perceived of the clergy is what captivates them – stained-glass-windows-voice or holy-demeanor or spiritual clothing and related trinkets. They do not, though people over 55 are generally inclined to believe what they see or hear; while generations under 55 want to flee the room in an inverse proportion of anxiety to their age.
No. People simply want to encounter other people and God through the texts, the worship and the humans they encounter doing the readings, doing the liturgy, serving the food.
On Wednesdays, the clergy spend all morning in meetings – three hours. Because Wednesdays are long days (a priest could arrive to celebrate the Eucharist at 7:00 am and not leave the church until 9:30 pm after Cathedral Nite) I often walk mid-day to clear my mind, move my body and drench my face in real sunlight. I usually walk to the back door of the Botanical Gardens, open the door with my fob (Garden members can get a fob to unlock the back gate at Cheeseman Park -it’s wonderful!) and let myself into Denver’s most mystical and magical place. My favorite place to pray is the Japanese garden with its water lilies and simplicity.
The dragonflies will hover and land on the lily pads, meeting up there like old Greek men smoking stogies and drinking thick coffee in the back of one of Pete’s diners on Colfax, huddling, comparing life-notes, lending courage.
We think people marvel at the light through our stained glass windows. Rather, I find they marvel at the light in our lives – a gentle touch, a kind word, a gentle smile.