There was an exquisite moment in church this morning. The service was laboring toward a moment of silence. The service leader was intoning, “Something, something, something. . . that holy quiet. . .”
At the next in-breath, Lu upset her box of crayons all over the floor. It sounded like a burst of hail beating against the sides of the sanctuary. Necks rotated unapologetically, and chuckles burbled up. This is a church where you can laugh out loud. Everyone got clearance for a better inhalation.
The silence, when we finally settled down, was followed by the Lord’s Prayer during which Lu who had just finished gathering up her crayons, dropped them all over again. This time they rolled around under the pews forever and forever in their glory until the “Amen.”
When I was a child in church, I prayed for moments like these. Getting the unstoppable giggles in church was a gift from God. Today as I sat there at the piano awaiting my cues, I was visited with a flood of associations.
At another church job—the one I was fired from because I didn’t close my eyes for prayer—there were awful “children’s sermons.” The children sat in the front of the sanctuary in a circle and pastor talked down to them, manipulating them into cute responses. Then they left to play fiery furnace or crucifixion or whatever they did in the bowels of the church.
The children’s sermon was especially sappy one Valentine’s Day. There was a lot of gush about love and Jesus, ending with the question, “And who wants to be your valentine?” One straightforward young man stuck his finger down his throat and made a retching noise. I was the only person in the hall who burst out laughing.
In a similar vein was something that happened at meeting of a “spirituality group” I was part of. There’s a problem right there: a group that characterizes itself as “spiritual.” Actually it had a pretentious name, Clas Myrddin, but no one used it except the man who conceived of it. The group was made up of some people who were hoping to by-pass all the difficult feelings and situations of life by being spiritual. Others of us (me, for example) thought we knew exactly what it meant to “be spiritual” and how to run a “spirituality” group. The two of us who knew from spiritual were continually butting heads. Everyone in the group was pissed off at either one or the other of us.
One night in my home, we all prepared to meditate. Some of the group wanted to try it, some didn’t, some worried that they didn’t know how, some were suspicious that the rest of the group wouldn’t be doing it right and so on. But there we were, fifteen human beings sitting in a circle, getting quiet, trying to be “spiritual.”
My cat, Edith, came into the room, gave us all the once-over, stalked dead center into the middle of the circle and histrionically vomited. This was also a group where one could laugh and we did. But we were not sufficiently spiritual to recognize a numinous visitation when the numen up-chucked in front of us.
In 1971, Albert Cullum wrote, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died, but Teacher You Went Right On, a book that I am glad to report would not be so radical today as it was then. The title says it all, not just for teaching but for our lives. Sometimes we get so intent on what we think needs to happen that we miss just about everything.