Sunday morning. I pour three scoops of coffee into the filter, fill the reservoir, and press start. As it burbles through the machine, I open the living room blinds, smile good morning to the little finches and juncos munching away at the bird feeder. They glance up at me, but quickly return to their breakfast. They know I'm no threat to them.
Today I notice the Japanese maple leaves are literally aflame as they catch the first rays of sun from the east. I can hear the ducks squawking noisily on the pond, and I wonder what's got them stirred up, hoping last winter's coyote hasn't returned from wherever he spent the summer.
When the coffee's done, I pour two mugs full, place them on a small wicker tray, and go back upstairs. Jim gets one cup, I take the other to the reading nook on the south side of our bedroom. Wrapping a soft sweater across my shoulders, I settle into my chair, and happily lose myself in the pages of a book.
After reading there is breakfast, and a long walk with the dogs. We're excited because the golf course is closed now, so we can travel the cart paths that wind in and around the various ponds and hills. Cool air on my skin, azure blue sky overhead, the silence unbroken except for the call of birds and the rustle of dry leaves under our feet. It's soothing and invigorating at the same time.
By the time we get back, it's almost lunch time. Another Sunday morning, come and gone.
For a number of years, our Sunday mornings were taken up with church services. In the early 1990's we joined a church - the first time in our married lives we attended church together. We found a cadre of friends and a niche in the handbell choirs and singing choirs. We were faithful goers and doers.
But over the past few years, we began to fall away from church. Our musical experience wasn't so fulfilling anymore, our senior pastor retired and a series of interim ministers took his place. We still had our friends, but saw them often enough outside of church that we didn't miss them too much. Getting up and dressed and out the door on Sunday morning became a hassle. We often felt annoyed and agitated before we even arrived, and the worship service itself usually did nothing to relieve that sensation.
So we stopped going.
Growing up, my family didn't go to church regularly, and though I've attended off and on at different points in my lifetime it's easy enough for me to set it aside. The habit isn't deeply ingrained, the need to go in order to salve my conscience was never instilled.
Simply put, I don't believe that regular attendance or involvement in church is mandatory in order to live a Christian life. Nor do I subscribe to the notion that church is "irrelevant" in the modern world. I think organized religion is valuable, I think it's important that the world see a community of believers dedicated to living the principles of their religion. And for many individuals, participation in worship and church activities is the way they live their faith. A minister once said that the worship service was the "intersection between faith and life." I liked that analogy, and obviously it stuck with me. I can see how gathering with like-minded individuals once a week is a way to connect spirituality and practicality, a way to inform daily living with a weekly dose of inspirational practice and ritual.
So if you don't go to church, how do you live your faith? How does your religion and your beliefs about that religion inform the way you go about your daily living?
Although I believe there is power in this connection, this sense of church as the intersection of faith and living, I also don't believe it's the end of the story. I think faith and life intersect in a lot of ways - in quiet contemplation, in listening to inspiring music, in caring for the people you love, in helping strangers, in being empathetic towards people of all cultures, in being good stewards of animals and the earth. Whenever you do something with love, whenever you touch someone with tenderness, whenever you treat someone as you would wish to be treated yourself, even when - especially when! - it's so hard to do, that's also where faith and life intersect.
A friend who has also recently stopped going to church, put it this way: "I haven't given up on God, I've just given up churchgoing." That statement feels right to me too, at least for now. During the ebb and flow of this life in general, there may be a point when going to church becomes important to my journey of faith.
For now, I'm trying to be mindful of the many other intersections along the way.