In their Summer 2008 issue, GEEZ Magazine held a contest soliciting “30 sermons you would never hear in church.” My submission was chosen among the 30, though it is more of a “non-sermon,” as the title makes clear…
by Tricia Gates Brown
My weekly church attendance started when I was three years old and my parents “got saved.” It ended about four years ago, when I relocated to a new town at the age of 34. I have a ready excuse for family members concerned about my church non-attendance since I work on Sundays. When I tell them this they nod sympathetically and express hopes that my hours will change so I will be granted the blessing of church. What I don’t tell them is that I really don’t want to return to church. I doubt I will ever return to church.
I do like to connect with people spiritually, and I do this – outside of church. And when I want to pray or sing praises, I do this too – outside of church. I have spirit-nourishing rituals I do outside of church, and ways that I “serve.” What I have found no substitute for and what I do not miss, are sermons. The idea of everyone sitting and listening to the same few people preach every Sunday no longer makes sense to me. I just don’t get it anymore.
If I could stand at a pulpit during sermon time and deliver a message, it would be this: “Leave! Go find the truth – it is within you. Go find a quiet place, a place where your spirits and minds can stretch out, where they can look inward and outward. And return there as often as possible.
“The voice of God speaks through the language of every experience and feeling and fear and insight you have. Listen to what it tells you. Do not be afraid of anything it will say. Do not be afraid of any appetite, habit or thought you have – notice it, listen to it, acknowledge it.”
The most important spiritual work happens in the desert and the closet, and the great religions all affirm this. But the practitioners of those religions increasingly fear this sort of silent, solitary “working out one’s salvation.” Church attendance tends to become a substitute for this and people tend to avoid silence.
I do treasure community – with neighbors, friends and people I encounter through my job. I value shared spiritual practice, which can happen almost anywhere if we are open to it and have spiritual friendships. Everyone needs community, and communities need us.
Some fear that embracing solitude in order to encounter God makes us individualistic, insensitive to others and un-rooted. But I find it nourishes our roots and sensitivity. The more we become aware of what churns inside us – the life and the death, the light and the dark, the love and the hate – the more deeply we will connect with our neighbors and the more compassionate and humble we will be. We will see God in everyone and touch God everywhere. We will be full of love.
If I were behind the pulpit I would say: “No preacher standing here can give you the wisdom you have within your very soul. So, why are you sitting here? No one but you can train your ears to hear the song of love God has been singing to you from the day you were born. So go to the closet, go to the desert, go to the woods and get quiet.”