This week I’m feeling “Forrest Gumpish,” like saying “that’s all I have to say about that,” and pulling the plug on the blog. The feeling will pass, I imagine, and I’ll think of something new to say. Until then, I’ll say something old. The following was written for an autobiography group that I participated in at my church some years back. I chose this “chapter” to post now, thanks to the inspiration of new blogfriend, Vicki, who wrote a lovely post with beautiful pix, “The First Church of Water Lilies” a few days ago.
Several years ago, Jif and I went to Boston. He had a conference for work, and I was just a tagalong. I loved it there. We rode the subway (my first), and I was very impressed with how safe it appeared. Elderly people and people with young children rode it late at night with no apparent fear. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, and all around the city, and generally had a great time.
I had two contrasting experiences of my spirituality on that trip. The first was in the presence of whales. We went on a whale-watching boat, about 40 miles off the coast of Boston Harbor. As we prepared to leave, the man on the loudspeaker informed us that we were embarking on “a three-hour tour.” All those present who had grown up with “Gilligan’s Island,” myself included, immediately repeated after him, singing together, “a three-hour tour.” I hoped this wasn’t an omen about the fate of our excursion!
The guides on the boat were very knowledgeable about whales, and told us what we might see. They also warned us that sometimes they didn’t see any whales at all on these trips. As we made our way out to whale territory, I tried not to get my hopes up.
We saw whales. We saw whales like no one else on this tour company’s boats had ever seen whales, according to the excited guides. We saw at least six whales, humpbacks and minkes. We saw them far away and close up. We saw their eyes. We saw them breach and dive and spout. I’ve never been so thrilled by the majesty of a sight. For a grand finale, one whale came within six feet of the boat, rocking and splashing us, and scaring us for a brief moment. But that moment of fear was fleeting, and suddenly everyone on the boat became about 3 years old, jumping and squealing with delight. We laughed and clapped for the whale. Some of us cried. Adult self-consciousness quickly returned and most of us regained proper composure. I remained ecstatic. I realized my applause was for God. I’m sure there were others who felt that way. Like we were in church — the House of God — on the ocean. Whale Church.
Later in the week, on Sunday, I guess, I went to “real” church. It was a historical landmark, in the town square, and I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember its name. It was large and beautiful, with stained glass and lots of wood. In the part where I sat, there were kneelers covered in needlepointed fabric. As I looked around, I realized that the needlepoint work was the names of different families, some symbol representing that family, and the date it was placed there. Many had been there well over 100 years. The history of the building, and the beauty of its decoration, brought a special dimension to the worship, as did the kneeling and praying where another family knelt to pray almost 200 years ago.
As I left that church (after a guided tour of it, which was offered after the service), I felt like I had been to church, but not the same as when I’d been to whale church. As I thought about this, I realized that simplicity and straightforwardness are important to me, and feel more like God to me. On the ocean it was water, whales, God and us. With a marvelous building come many complications. It was beautiful, but having been involved in “beautifying” churches before, I wondered how many arguments there were about window treatments, lighting, etc., who “won” and “lost” those arguments, who felt hurt. And in that church, public tours were given. I imagine there were many discussions about time, admission price, what would be off limits, and other considerations I can’t even think of. Wonderful structures are well, wonderful, but I sometimes think the more people are impressed by them, the more God can get lost in them.
I know some people don’t feel this way at all. I suppose it’s a personality trait. I’ve been to “church” in the forest in Yellowstone and in the Grand Tetons, and felt very connected to God there. Those points of connection, like whale church, are few and far between with the lifestyle that we have (lifestyle meaning time and money available to run away from suburbia), but in a way they challenge me to attend traditional church and try to maintain at least an echo of that awesome connection, until I can go to another place — usually outdoors — and get recharged.