This past Sunday evening I went to my first Sunday worship service, in a church, in over seven months. I realize that should be shameful for a pastor to admit but, if you’ve read any of my other recent posts you know, I have experienced church often in the recent months. I just haven’t been to church. Sunday mornings have become special times of sacred reading, quiet reflection, deep joy, and an occasional enjoyable episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. If you haven’t watched the show, don’t judge me. She’s got some pretty inspiring folks on it! But, back to this Sunday.
I had received a Facebook invite from a friend I used to serve with at a former church. Cameron and her husband, Matt, are two of the most talented and spirit filled worship leaders and human beings I know. The prospect of attending a worship service they were leading was compelling for sure. The service was being held at 5:00 at an Episcopal church with contemplative worship and traditional liturgy. It was being called Soulful Sunday service. Perfect! I used to be Episcopalian and in many ways still there in heart. I love the beauty of the liturgy and table ritual, so I looked forward to this service. But, honestly, over the last seven months I have had numerous urges to go to church. I always talk myself out of expending the energy to do so, which is what I suspected I would do again this time.
But, lo, not this Sunday. About 3:30 I began to get ready. I fretted a bit over what to wear. From what I could tell of the evite I figured it would be casual, but I texted my friend just to be sure. Casual? Yes, casual. Jeans casual? Yes, jeans would be great. What patience she showed with my clothing insecurities! I texted her that clearly I was having issues and that after a seven month absence I hope lightening didn’t strike when I entered the church. Truth be told, I think what was really stirring in me was that I miss getting ready to serve in a service, to preach. I miss the whole process of wrestling with the text, that panic of failure, the relief of surrendering it all to God for the outcome. There was something sad and pathetic in my worrying about being dressed just right for this service, so as not to stand out at all.
Finally, I managed to get myself ready and out the door in plenty of time to fill my car up with gas and make the 20 minute drive to the church. Yes, i was going to church! Sunday, fill my soul! I got there so early that I took time to drive around the surrounding neighborhood so I wouldn’t get there “too” early. When I determined it was the appropriate moment, about five minutes before the service was to start, I parked, checked the mirror for my hair, teeth, and nose (don’t act like you don’t), and got out of the car and began walking across the parking lot toward the front door of the church. For some unknown reason I looked down. My breath caught in my throat in horror.
In my fretting to look just right I had tried on two different pairs of shoes and, yes you guessed it, right there in the parking lot I stood with those two different pairs of shoes on. Not two black shoes from different pairs. Not two brown shoes from different pairs. Not even two red shoes from different pairs. No, I had on one metallic gold shoe. And one leopard print shoe.
Nothing subtle about this mismatch. I wished the parking lot had a chug hole I could crawl in. Seeing none on sight, I willed myself invisible and made a beeline back to the car. Safety for my humiliation. I guessed the only thing to do was to go home and write this Sunday off in shame. But there was something inside of me that was determined to get inside that church.
After some momentary brainstorming remembered I had passed a Whole Foods the block before the church. And I remembered Whole Foods has always carried TOMs, you know the shoes that if you buy a pair a pair is donated to someone who needs a pair of shoes (not someone who clearly has more shoes than she can keep up with!). I figured I’d run over there and grab a pair, save face, and do a good deed in the bargain. I’d be able to get back to the service just a tiny bit late. One hitch. Whole Foods apparently no longer carries TOMs (perhaps because Target now does?). At least this location didn’t. What they did have was a pair of glorified socks with rubber stoppers on the bottom. In the most horrendous of patterns. But it was a matching pair! So I bought them. They were a little wide on my feet so I would need to shuffle along…
Returning to the church, I gingerly crept across the parking lot, feeling every bit of gravel along the way, I smiled really big at the young man who opened the door and gave me a bulletin, hoping he would not be distracted by the awful print on my booties. Entering the exquisite sanctuary I “padded” down the center aisle only to realize they were in the middle of reading the gospel. They stand in the center aisle to read the Gospel. Everyone faces the center aisle while they read the Gospel. I slipped in as quietly as possible, which wasn’t that difficult in socks, and tried to release my breath which was still firmly clenched on my throat. I felt more than a little foolish standing there in house shoes, lacking only a matching bathrobe to make my humiliation complete. Ephesians 6:15 tells us that, for shoes, we are to put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that we may be fully prepared. In this moment I stood completely un-prepared in every way. All my pretenses had been exposed. I still didn’t know why I had felt so compelled to be at this service, this evening. But I did so yearn to hear Good News. And, as I finally exhaled, I could feel my heart expanding ever so slightly with the hope that peace would come. I was here. Lightening hadn’t struck. Yet.
To be continued…
Something to chew on.