Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Wine in Old Wineskins

I attended Easter services this morning at what I suppose is technically still my church. I haven't been there since the beginning of February, and I didn't miss it at all when I was gone. Missing church is not why I am now typing through a blur of frustrated tears.

I often have a surreal sense of dual realities when I sit in church, and I expected it again today. Usually when I walk into the auditorium after a long absence, it is as if I haven't missed a Sunday -- I still have to catch myself from heading up to the piano instead of finding a seat with the congregation. I still know all the notes to the songs, and I still enjoy the sound of the voices and the instruments blending together in imperfect, human, wonderful harmony. I still find that the old hymns resonate with me in a way that dips under the persistent doubt. But my usual Sunday experience also invariably includes the cognitive dissonance from some of the more ridiculous phrases in the songs, the logical leaps in the sermon, and the frustratingly repetitive thoughts being offered.

This Sunday, I had expected that sense of double selves to be even stronger with the celebration of the resurrection. I expected to be overwhelmed with memories of my childhood church, and to be hit with a wave of guilt for not immediately confessing every sin I could think of from the last few years of drifting away from the faith. I expected to squirm in my seat through the whole service, feeling my past and my present pulling me in increasingly different directions.

And instead, I felt very little at all. I enjoyed the old Easter hymns, but all I could think about was the strangeness of the century-old words. "I know that he is living, whatever men may say ... you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!" As I sang the remembered alto line from the red hymnal of my grade-school years, my mind chimed in with a fretful counterpoint: "Well, that's not very good logic, is it? What do I say when I ask myself how I know he lives? Do I just keep telling myself I do, and that I really should believe myself and quit asking so many questions?" I soldiered on: "Where, O death, is now thy sting?" and the little voice in my head chattered, "What kind of question is that? Death's sting is unavoidable every time I lose one more person I love." My mind was busy, but my heart was silent.

The sermon was no better. There was little talk of hope and life and light, just a convoluted explanation of how the power of God could help us make the changes we need to make in ourselves, as long as we had faith in him to do it. I understand what the pastor was saying in his frame of reference, but my mind reeled from the repeated insistence that inner change was impossible without faith in an invisible deity who does not speak. So much of what he said, I simply can't make myself believe any more.

My overwhelming sense this morning was of something no longer fitting. The wrong puzzle piece, the shirt that never quite hangs right, the square peg's corners bruising themselves on the implacable curve of the round hole. The words of Luke echo in my head: "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. " Something has drained out of me, something valuable that I knew I was losing but found myself unable to catch before it trickled between my fingers. And now I am empty, and as I fill up with new thoughts, I feel the pressure on my seams and edges. This warm, insular little world no longer fits me, and I fear that if I do not find something new to hold my thoughts, to hold my self, I will come undone.

1 comment:

Chad said...

I, unfortunantly have no great help for your internal dilema and the irony of that is that Im a pastor. The reason I post a comment, though, is to compliment you on your gift of writting. You were able to share your thoughts beautifully with the pen. God Bless,
Chad