I believe that the road to enlightenment is enlightenment itself. The search for a spiritual experience, the willingness to seek higher ground in itself creates a higher consciousness.
Ask and it shall be given you;
Seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Well I've been asking and seeking and knocking.
Every morning I start my day with a period of prayer, silent meditation and readings from various spiritual texts. Often times my early morning prayer and meditation rituals provide me with a sense of calm and well being yet at other times I can't quite seem to quiet my mind or feel the conscious contact I seek.
I find satisfaction knowing that I'm not on this journey alone. Being part of a larger spiritual community has given me an overwhelming sense of belonging. It is something I deeply crave. For the last couple of years this yearning to be a part of a larger spiritual community has led me to various congregations around New York City. Maybe because New York has a reputation for being a 'sinful' place, there's hardly a block on the island of Manhattan that doesn't have a church or temple on it. In my search for a spiritual home I've found a veritable smorgasbord of styles of worship to choose from and now I find myself in an uncomfortable situation. I'm sitting here with chicken on my plate and I'm thinking I should have chosen the salmon.
I'm beating around the bush. Plain English: Did I choose the wrong church?
Several months ago I became a member of Marble Collegiate Church. Is it possible that the honeymoon period is over? Do I need to redouble my efforts to be a part of my chosen church community, search inside myself for what it means to be committed to something even in times of doubt? Or am I actually starting to see the reality of what goes on now that the newness of my experience is beginning to wear away?
I'm weighing what it is that pulls me towards this church against what it is that causes me to bristle with doubt. Marble is a completely gay affirming church, accepting of all who come through it's doors and the diversity of the congregation is a wonderful thing. I love looking around the sanctuary and seeing a rainbow of God's children. I don't think I could belong to a community that didn't have these things. Many Sunday mornings the sermon is wonderful. Arthur Caliandro, the senior minister, is a kind, loving old man with a sweet and, often, touching way of personalizing the message. The guest speakers seem to be world class orators with the ability to move large crowds. The members of the congregation are warm and friendly. Two of the associate ministers are smart, forward thinking and loving people who've made themselves available to me on several occasions. All of these things continue to pull me back for my weekly dose of community worship.
Then there is the other side of this argument. The side that gets bigger for me every time the congregation stands as one, zombified, to sing those stale hymns. It is remarkable to me that a church with several very good choirs and a vast music program continues to try and keep alive these dead or dying dirges. There must be another hymnal out there with some more lively or inspired choices in it. Also there is the way it is understood that no one is to EVER applaud for the sanctuary choir even if they perform some interesting and difficult piece of music and even if they kick ass. Huh? What's that about? Why should I sit on my hands if the Spirit is moving me to show some appreciation? Forget about shouting "Amen".
The Minister that has "temporarily" been brought on staff, as Dr. Caliando's health makes it unable for him to preach weekly, is the kind of preacher that has a definite old time southern flavor. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself but one morning he told a story of having had a vision of the angel Gabriel. Are you kidding me? Did he really say that? Doesn't he run this stuff by people for some feedback before he says it aloud to a room full of several hundred and countless others who watch the service online and on TV broadcasts? The recounting of his vision of Gabriel is just one instance of several that have caused me concern. I'll refrain from listing the others here.
Am I nit picking? Am I supposed to just swallow this stuff whole and accept that this is what goes down at a church? I'm very glad that I wasn't forced to attend church as a child. I know many people who grew up dreading Sunday mornings as it was a time to dress up, sit still and shut up. Consequently those folks are seldom seen at church save for weddings and funerals. I'm trying to approach my involvement in church life with as open a mind as I can have.
Marble is a very old institution. Actually it is the oldest congregation in the country dating back to 1628. Truly remarkable considering it's progressive stand on certain issues. Because of this I shouldn't be surprised at the politics of such an institution. Things do take time to change. Should I continue to focus on what I like about the place or should I attempt to bring attention to what I don't agree with? "Hey we've been doing this just fine for a long time. Who the hell are you?"
I have a lot of questions. My faith, trust and commitment seem to be made up of questions. I don't get a lot of answers but I often find my faith by asking the questions and listening for the answers. Maybe a spiritual community really is like a family. I don't agree with a lot of things that go on with members of my family but they're still my family.
I've decided to make choices that work for me within the confines of what's accepted in the church. I look online to see when that interim minister is preaching and I go to a different church on those Sundays. More often than not when I go to other churches I return to Marble feeling like I have made the right decision, that I've come home.
I do enjoy being part of a spiritual community and just because I've become a member of one community I don't necessarily feel restricted from exploring others. So I'll keep on knocking, seeking and asking and if, in the process, I happen to shout "Amen!" in the middle of a very quite service I hope I'll be forgiven.