What I Found Beyond The Church Doors
I've passed the sign hundreds of times. "Open To All".
We've lived in this town for over 7 years now, and previously for 4 years during college. Walking to the library or from a bar, I've passed those doors countless times.
Often I've passed them without a second thought. There have been times, though, when I've wondered...
What might it look like inside? If everyone is welcome and there isn't a church service going on, what exactly is happening in there? Do you have to sign in? Will I be accosted by members of the church if I go in, and relentlessly recruited?
Yesterday, I'd already broken some of my rules and tasted life in a different way. It was already a morning of firsts. So when I ended up back on that street, the experience was ready to be had.
I stopped by the library then walked down the street to grab a sub sandwich. I returned to my car which was parked, of course, right in front of the church. I tossed my sandwich into the car along with my cell phone. No need for that where I was headed.
I swung open the heavy oak door and was greeted with another set of closed doors, beyond a lobby with a well-used sign-in book. I was already in one set of doors - I wasn't stopping here.
As I opened the second set of wooden doors, I was greeted with resonant organ music. A man around my age set up front in front of the grand instrument, apparently practicing for this week's service. He glanced my way but quickly returned to his playing.
Immediately I was overwhelmed with emotion. The line of wooden pews with their tops worn from years of reverent hands whisked me back to the days of my own church attendance. I was young then, too young to really appreciate or question much. I do remember the wooden pews at the churches I attended, though. Some had red courduroy cushions for padding, some were a bit more modern. At that age, my head often barely peeked over the top of those pews and my legs dangled carelessly, swinging to a rhythm of the preacher's words.
Like many in America, I was raised in a Christian household. We were not regular church attenders, though my mom tried hard in our early days to keep us involved. And like many, I turned from the church in my teenage years. Something became ingrained during those later years - a deep rejection of all-things-church.
Since that time, I've re-opened my eyes and heart to a broader inclusion of all religions and spiritualities. You can understand, however, the feelings that hit me as I saw those wooden pews in the church in which I now stood.
I chose a pew towards the back, out of sight of the organ player. I still felt out-of-place, and didn't want to worry about whether or not he was watching me in my awkwardness.
The interior was stunning.
Old limestone arches cascaded down towards colored stain-glass windows, which let in only hints of light. Towering dark-wood columns led to a similarly dark vaulted ceiling that seemed to simultaneously call me to heaven and ground me into an earthy body.
And the smell - oh, the smell. A sweet wood scent that can only come from trees cut, hand-carved, aged, and soaked with the stories of time, permeated every inhale.
As the organ music continued, I'd close my eyes, then open them. I'd halfway close them, place my hands on my lap, and enter into a meditation for a minute or two. For most of the time, I was alone. But after many minutes, a few people entering and milling about caught my attention.
I felt a familiar swell of anxiety in my gut and into my chest. Should I be here? Are they going to approach me? Am I acting "right"?
But I kept breathing. I searched the church and within myself. I had thoughts arise in mind, intentions - Allow me to find peace with this church, with this religion, with Jesus, whose image is delicately carved into the cross before me, ...Allow me to find peace within myself.
I was only there for maybe 15 minutes before I put my hands together and made a reverent bow to the figure, to the church, to the organ player, to the other visitors, to this building, to myself, to all who had been here before me.
I placed my hand on a spot on the pew in front of me, a spot that was smooth and lighter in color from being used many times as a grasping spot for those who were rising to stand. I followed in the ritual, gently unfolding my body to a standing position.
I passed a woman standing at the back, mouthing the words to the music being played, and staring with a smile at the cross hanging at the front of the church. She didn't look my way.
I opened one oak door, and then the other, where I was greeted with the bright light of the sun and a soft noise of a town going about its business.
The entire drive home, I carried the warm vastness of the church within me. Even now, as I write this, I feel within my mind, my heart, my lungs the stillness I found within those aged walls. Within that church was sacredness, left behind by hundreds of others for me to discover. And once I left?
Every crack in the sidewalk, tire mark on the road, cloud ready to burst with rain, and breath that greeted my lungs and whispered in my ear spoke to me of its own miraculous nature.
I could end this with telling you how important it is not to pass up opportunities. I could tell you how fear and its cousin, anxiety, are silly obstacles to miraculous experiences. I could tell you why it is necessary to find stillness in our days, or sensual enjoyments in the sacred.
Instead, I'll just share my story. I'll share with you what I found within.
Whether or not you open the doors is up to you.