When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O God, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. (Psalm 94:18-19)
Before the institution of the church, its rituals, its pastorate, its buildings, its committees, and its many ministries there was a deep seated personal need. There was an absence felt in every human being. Throughout our existence as a species, ships and caravans (literal and figurative) have been outfitted and new maps made to help us fill that hole. However, as each ship returns and each map waxes and wanes in importance, the absence remains. Every new certainty brings new questions and so, still, we do not know our place. We do not know our purpose. We do not know why we are here. We cannot—at least easily—feel the transcendent present in much of our lives.
The world has turned out to be quite a far cry from the Land of Eden. God, if there is one, isn’t our next door neighbor anymore. We are isolated. There is a great deal of traffic between us. We have trouble reaching each other, let alone the Divine. That said, while we may be on our own in many ways, we do not have to be truly alone. Humanity, in spite of its many failings, is a social race. We can break down the barrier between us. We can fight the traffic. We can work toward a common goal. We can, that is, if we are willing to put our personal interests aside for the greater good. This is the reason for ships and caravans. This is the reason for church.
Still, while we travel together, there is a sense in which the journey we are embarked on is a personal one. We ask our own questions. We wait for God to speak to us. The grace we seek in the church isn’t something to be merely talked about. It is something to experience. If God (however conceived) is not present in our church, no committee work, no pledging, no hymn singing or sermon preaching will make any difference. Grace—the sense of us touching the Divine and being touched back—is at the core of what we do together. This possibility draws us to worship and to the lifeways of our congregations.
The problem is that this grace can easily be lost in the rush of our lives. The mall doesn’t have even one kiosk dedicated to the stuff. Nor do we parents find it as often as we would like next to the soccer field or the hockey rink. Perhaps we find that when we do manage in the midst of our chaotic lives to get to church, grace isn’t making an appearance there either.
Connecting to God can be hard work. The church can make that work easier or even harder. We want to pray the words of Psalm 94 and truly feel God’s love when our feet slip. Often we are able to do just that. Sometimes, though, we are not. we live in a time and society when moments of grace can seem all too rare. The challenge for the church is to find a way ensure that it has a home in our sanctuaries, meeting rooms, and out in the world.
The Council of Christian Churches in the UUA will be considering the topic of grace and its role in the church this Sunday at its annual convocation. Once again, further information can be found here.