I went to church this past Sunday; I went because it is the Hebrew month of Elul, a spiritual time of preparation for the New Year. I went because the chapel is at the one mile marker of my walking route; it is open air with just a ceiling and pews; no walls to close it in and almost every Sunday when I walk by there is beautiful congregational singing and the voice of a pastor preaching, or bells or communal readings and recitations of faith, and I thought I haven’t been all summer and this is a good time to see if it can help me on my journey to a new moment in my life. And besides, I had a walking friend willing to join me and it is good not to be alone in church (or synagogue).
I didn’t know any of the hymns except the final one, which was set to the “Ode to Joy” melody of Beethoven’s 9th. An aside: Do all those notes above the words in the hymnal really help you know the melody if you can’t read music or can all church goers read music? None of the creeds or confessions of sin worked for me – too Jesus centered but the Lord’s Prayer felt pretty Jewish. I was surprised that there was no reading from the Hebrew Scriptures; I thought there was always one that was then counter levered with a reading from the Christian Scriptures. I was disappointed because I like to see how the two play off each other.
The sermon was text based. The priest (Episcopal) retold the story of a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life – when he says to his disciples: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56…) The disciples tell him that the teaching is difficult and they are not sure they can accept it and some of them actually turn back from following him. Jesus confronts the rest of them and asks: “Do you also want to go away?”
This is what the sermon said to me. And since I am in church let me stay with the metaphor. We all have “come to Jesus” moments; we all have times when we must make decisions and face the hard and the difficult straight on and either work with it or walk away from it. All our faith traditions teach this. You can’t walk through life unscathed. We struggle to be born and like a seed pushing its way through the crusty dirt, we grow by facing those things that are tough for us. Some challenges are so hard, we want to run away from them and some we confront and work with and turn into learning opportunities. Some cause pain; some bring insight; some we just never understand.
There is a beautiful image in the Hasidic tradition that during the month of Elul, God is out there walking in the fields, searching, seeking, waiting, and watching. Elul is the time for me to leave my comfort zone, confronting with compassion and with love the hard, the tough, the challenging, the unsettling. I’m glad I went to church last Sunday. It helped me in my Elul preparation. It reminded me that God has many houses and one thing came through loud and clear.
We are all in this together.