For 40 days, it has been quiet.
In the Episcopal church, we use the “Alleluia” refrain in every liturgy, except during Lent.
It’s a type of fasting in and of itself, to not use this word. It’s not that we don’t praise God, or thank Him during Lent. And we’re not fasting from joy itself. We’re just observing a time of introspection. A quiet period of contemplation about the journey of Jesus that led Him to Golgotha.
When I left the Baptist church, I was in my own period of quiet contemplation. It wasn’t Lent, it was actually more around summertime.
There was a stirring in my spirit that led me to lay down my keys to the church that had been my home for several years and walk out of that building into something……….else.
I’m not even going to lie. I was afraid.
I visited several churches in the months that followed, but nothing “settled” on me. I felt like I was caught in an endless cycle of spiritual homelessness, with nowhere to feed my soul, or find rest.
It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted physical rest, but there was that as well. I had always, always been active in my churches. Pianist, teacher, VBS leader, prayer warrior. I was always there, ready to help, to go above and beyond for the sake of the call on my life as a Christian.
Oftentimes, if you have this type of willing spirit, you will be taken advantage of. People will assume that you will shoulder any and all responsibility and they will often readily let you.
But the problem was also with me. My workaholic tendencies slip into my spiritual life as much as they do my professional life. And my evangelical background taught me that even if you were saved by faith, if you weren’t actively participating in that faith in legalistic ways, you weren’t exactly a “good” Christian.
Most evangelical churches don’t come out and explicitly say this, but it is implied. Over and over again.
The focus is often on how many come to church and how much they give when they do. They older I got, the more the focus on these numbers went from making me uncomfortable to downright pissing me off.
So I started looking. Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, non-denominational: all of these, I’m sure, would have eventually welcomed me with open arms.
But I was not only weary, I was wary. What would they want from me? And would that be the only thing that gave me worth in their eyes? Would I be just another desperately needed number, or tithe?
I want to stop here and say that I do not disparage my Baptist background. Quite the opposite. My upbringing helped to inspire my deep appreciation for the spiritual and supernatural. I would not be who I am without that foundation.
There are issues with any denomination, my current one included. But my point is, I was no longer at home in it. And try as I might, and I really, really tried, I could not make it so.
Fast forward to yesterday evening. I make a one hour drive to Jackson and walk into St. Philip’s Episcopal church. It’s not my “home” church, but it’s special to me.
I walk in and take a seat and let my mind get transported into the creation story, the valley of the dry bones. I think my spiritual upbringing was the assembling of my own bones, my later experiences in the evangelical church as laying the sinews and skin upon them, and my most recent journey as the breath that brought everything to life.
Our Bishop presides over the service. During his sermon, my eyes sting with tears as he reflects upon stories from his own life. He compares how God takes what is broken, and redeems it, gives in new purpose.
I know he speaks with humility and sincerity, because he is a former alcoholic. And now he is Bishop of the state Diocese.
As I sit there, I think about how my own redemption story started in this same building. I’m there tonight for an Easter Vigil service and to celebrate the resurrection of my Lord.
5 years ago, I sat across the aisle in the same building, tears not stinging my eyes but flowing freely, as I remembered the life of one of the best friends I ever had. And what I didn’t know at the time, was that there was a resurrection happening that day as well.
From that moment forward, my life hasn’t been the same. Scales, one by one, began to fall away from my eyes and I eventually found exactly the place and people that I felt, and still feel, absolutely certain that I should be and call my spiritual family.
It felt like, and has probably looked like, my life did a sharp 180. In some ways, I suppose I did. Some of the things that I had adopted as part of my belief system in my younger days did not survive the refining process. Some are still being burned away. Some are ingrained deeper and more profound than ever before.
But I don’t think of my spiritual resurrection as a 180 shift in who I was. I think of it as a natural progression from where I had been to where God was ready for me to go.
I don’t think Eric had to die for me to get there, either. But I think if he knew how much I’d grown as a person, and as a Christian in the years since his death, he’d be incredibly proud and supportive.
So I sat there last night, listened, sang, prayed, accepted the bread and wine, renewed my baptismal covenant.
I watched as the dimly lit room was brought to full brightness with the proclamation of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” The incense filling the room. The voices of the choir swelling with an Alleluia song.
This morning, at my own church, we “flowered” the cross, as is our Easter tradition.
Once again, the message of how God transforms the ugly into something beautiful.
We exchange God’s peace with one another. I feel the tangible presence of love everlasting in the room. Joy in our hearts. Alleluias on our lips.
I am home.