church bells

It is a Sunday, and I am sitting on my boyfriend’s couch, a quilt that looks homemade but isn’t bundled around my legs against the early spring chill. I am browsing tumblr to pass the time before the day’s activities begin in earnest. In the background I half-hear a strain of old-fashioned music I half-assume the neighbors upstairs are playing.

“There’s those church bells you love,” he says, poking fun at my history of being far more religious than he.

“I never went to that kind of church,” I say. Despite being wholly accurate — Baptists and nondenominationals don’t invest in such clanging architectural frivolity — it feels half-untrue.

I miss the sound of Sunday morning bells, even though no church I’ve attended ever rang them.

* * *

quiltIt is a Sunday, but I have little desire to don my finery and enter another building filled with smiles and songs. I have haunted a few churches this winter, but each has felt foreign. The first one, I had such hopes for. Online, it looked kindred to the one church that I immediately felt viscerally, achingly attached to and alive in. But when I visited, it was like pulling on a favorite sweater only to discover it has shrunk.

I thought moving mainline from my more fringe roots might answer the questions evangelicalism hasn’t for me. But so far, it’s like sharing Thanksgiving with your college roommate’s family: the people are friendly, the spread’s a little different, but it just isn’t home.

A couple of denominations still intrigue me, and I’ll try another of their outposts sometime, I’m sure. But I’m afraid. Each congregation I enter with nervous expectation then slip away from, disappointed, as soon as the benediction or closing song has gone silent, it feels like mounting evidence that maybe I’ll never stay for coffee and small talk. Maybe I’ll never settle into one of these communities. Maybe I’ve used up my allotment of belief, my reserve of religiosity, my ration of wonder.

I don’t know how I’ll know if I get to that point. Am I there already? Is there an internet quiz, “How Agnostic Are You?” Is there a way to stop this? Is there a seminary for skeptics, any grace left for the doubters, for me? Would I even want to attend?

Can you unshrink the sweater without stretching it out?

The tired-of-trying, sick-of-seeking: Is that proof I’ve deconverted, or just the conflict before resolution, before transfiguration? Because the journey isn’t enough — I want a goddamn destination. And if I could get an itinerary along the way, that’d be swell, too.

* * *

Won’t I always be a Christian, though? Wasn’t Susan still a queen of Narnia, even when she started wearing lipstick and stopped believing? Could she see a hotel wardrobe or a beaver at the zoo without remembering that lifetime of magic?

I can’t imagine a world without some source and symbol of redemption, the divine smudge of imago dei, the broken god of Calvary, the blooming hope of Easter.

Sure, I’ve most often been beat up or bored by church, but I miss it sometimes — or at least the idea of what it could be. I miss the hymns, even the ones espousing doctrines I can’t believe. I miss the invitation of the bread and wine. Honestly, I miss the tenacity with which I attended weekend after weekend for years, insisting to my doubts that this could be the week I’d meet God in a well-worn pew. Just you wait, it’ll make the waiting worth it. Just you wait, it’ll make sense this week. It has to. It has to.

* * *

It is a Sunday, and I don’t recognize the tune those church bells are ringing. But maybe I will.

Maybe next week, I will.

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8 comments

  1. Your honesty is beautiful.

  2. It takes time and tenacity to rejoin the Christian community. Give people a chance… they are only people. Let God give YOU a chance… don’t quit seeking. Regain that tenacity! But start seeking from your heart by reading in the Bible BEFORE you get to a congregation. Why wait to find a congregation? You are seeking God and He is right here!

  3. Caroline M · · Reply

    This blew me away. So beautiful, so true, and agonizing. Even though I was happy with church in one city, we move, and now it’s all so complicated again.

    If it’s any encouragement, I truly believe that the search for beauty and truth is the search for God. And you are clearly still peaking in that wardrobe.

  4. The bottom line will always be, “Does the Church preach the Word as it ought, and does the Church live the Word as it ought?” None of which the Church seems to take seriously now-a-days, but that’s no excuse for an individual to drop such a responsibility. Seek the Lord in the Word and prayer, and He won’t leave you hanging.

  5. Love this. As one who still loves the church but hates it at the same time..thank you for your honesty.

  6. Amanda · · Reply

    I was raised Catholic, but attended a fundamentalist Christian school because there were no Catholic high schools in my area and the public schools were hugely overcrowded, and the school I went to actually had a great academic reputation. This reminded me of a “church tour” school trip in 9th grade. The gist of it was, “look at how holy our churches are compared to those Catholics with their pews and stained-glass windows”! It was like, the plainer the church, the closer to God.

  7. This is where I am these days…still searching. Thank you for putting it into words that make sense. I am not at the destination of lost but in the journey of searching.

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