Church is light streaming in, mingled voices, the expectation — sometimes against all experience — that this time God will meet you here, or at the very least, that you will leave your miserable ways long enough to meet Him.
It doesn’t happen every week or even more than a few times in your life. Maybe this is because we have made these buildings into theaters and lecture halls. Our plays are passionless — we act out neither bliss nor despair, only the shabby optimism of elevator music and morning television. The lectures you have heard before, even the weepy, sentimentalized ones, because one does not survive the modern American church without having been lectured about what the words mean, or about what one ought to feel, or about how one ought to feel about people who don’t have the right way of thinking about what the words mean.
But sometimes even the words of men cannot keep out the Word, and then you know the God who is neither text nor calculus, who is past the intellect, past anything your meager tongue might utter. Then church is voices in unison with the voices of angels, the soft thump of a child’s head against a smooth wooden pew, the merciful hand laid upon the bowed shoulder, the indrawn breath as tears come unbidden.
Church is the child tasting bread, the man stooping low, the cloud of witnesses who for once are not weeping at what we have made of things, the sudden realization that all of it is true, the parts we yearn for and the parts we dread and the parts we ignore or twist to fit our tiny theologies — all of it is true, and it is true the way your fury and love and secret shames are true.
You find church and you weep, because you know it is a rare thing and it should not be this hard to find. You stand in it, as you might a quivering ray of light slipped through a cloud-burdened sky, and you pray that it will not end, that the light will spread or only stay, that this could be every day, forever and ever amen, not a spot of mercy but the way of all creation. You stand in the light already going dim, and you think you might be better, if only you could touch God.