“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.” John 4:23
I grew up in a Holy Spirit filled-dance-during-worship sort of church. Before I knew anything, I knew that God loved me, delighted in me, and was with me. The church in those days, for me, was more than just a building with walls and regular meeting times, it was the Church, made up of the people within it, and it happened over dinner, and at parties and Bible studies, and long walks on the beach which ended in evening bonfires.
It seems to me, looking back on my life so far, that those seasons filled with beauty which seems to cause a physical ache, are temporal mostly because my humanness cannot quite stand before the sustained wonder. These times are like Moses watching God’s back as He passes by: a glimpse of something utterly perfect, from a distance, which still leaves faces glowing and hearts full of awe.
Since that church, and that season, I have been a part of many different kinds of faith communities. I have peered into the finer points of theological differences, sung many kinds of songs and eaten many donuts. In some ways, I have always looked for that church of my childhood, longing to recreate how it felt to fellowship with God and others in a place where the veil was thin.
In college, far away from home, I made the church rounds and settled, surprisingly, on a tiny Episcopal church in the middle of the corn fields. A friend had given me a book about the seasons of the church year (Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross, a wonderful introduction) which had encouraged me to think differently and challenged me to explore a church which celebrated such things, for myself.
There was something about the awe which accompanied every act that captured me. I am a researcher, always desiring to know why (which, drove my mother crazy when I was little, as you can imagine, but serves me well now). I poured over books and blogs and the worn copy of the Book of Common Prayer given to me by the priest at my little church. He walked me through things I didn’t understand, patiently answering my many questions.
At first, I struggled to find my place, literally, in church. I would open my book, trying to find the next reading before we were half-way through. Sometimes, I would give up and just listen, letting the words wash over me. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. I thought about joining with everyone saying these words on that day, and in all of history.
In this church, there was no dancing, but I recognized a commonality between the church of my youth and this one: the Holy Spirit was there.
Since then, I returned to the Northwest, leaving the cornfields behind. It was difficult to leave that dear place and the people who had been the Church with me. I have worshipped all over the map in the interim (both literally and figuratively), holding all of these experiences inside of me, and I think that I am starting, slowly, to see a little more clearly that bond which binds all of the churches together. As Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman, she asks, since He seems to be a prophet, whether she and her people have chosen the “right” place to worship. After centuries of questions just like this (followed by centuries more), Jesus tells her something revolutionary: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Church matters, and community matters, but the where and the how and the when are utterly immaterial in the face of why. The Spirit of God can be found in a prayer book just as easily as in a praise song. It is the Spirit which inspires worship.