I love going to church. My favorite time is not the singing (although I do love the robust and rousing Fanny Crosby hymns, partially because they are straight out of my childhood and partially because I get to snicker at my husband. His very Lutheran musical tastes <read that: Bach, big organs, and more Bach> claim that the hymns I adore make him feel as if the congregation has just stepped onto a giant Merry-go-round. It delights me so that God brought us together. We can have a theological debate over the price of butter.) Nor is my favorite time the time of greeting when we wander about the congregation, seeking people with hands to be shaken and peace to be shared, and then once safely back in the pews, quietly put on disinfectant to avoid one of the Holy Plagues.
Nope, my favorite part is . . . the sermon.
Not everyone shares my sentiments, but I really mean this. Not only am I guaranteed to learn something (I have a wonderful pastor), but I’m certain to mentally take a lovely stroll through a variety of cerebral valleys and glens, only to eventually emerge back on the same plateau of thought with everyone else.
Here’s how it works.
Pastor: Paul was lowered over the side of the city wall in a basket.
Me: Wow. That must have been some basket. I don’t have a basket anywhere NEAR strong enough for that. Grant you I have one that holds about 50 pounds of onions . . . which, come to think of it is almost empty . . . I wonder if Paul ate onions? I’d better get to the store this week . . . but I really hate shopping . . . although they’ve installed that little café mocha dispenser now . . . I just wish it wasn’t in the refrigerated foods section—waaay too cold . . . I suppose I could wear my winter coat . . . I wonder if Paul ever wore a winter coat? What’s winter even like in Jerusalem? I wonder if . . . wait . . . what is that sound . . . I hear music . . . why is everybody standing . . . oh, it’s the closing hymn. Time to rise, Carol.
I’ve heard there are people who have linear thoughts. Supposedly, these folks start a thought, think about it, and then complete it. They can focus intently on a 90-minute lecture regarding the historical derivatives of the word hermeneutics while never losing their train of thought. They actually have a train. I have more of a hot air balloon. I’m just as interested as getting to my location as the folks on the train, but I’m blown about a wee bit by the wind, meandering here and there, seeing things that weren’t on the agenda, but nonetheless are still quite lovely. So in church, while others stay steadfastly aware of exactly what is being said, my mind will take a comment by the pastor and gently blow off the linear path to regions unanticipated, and often lovely.
I might contemplate if Mary and Martha ever worried about the environmental impact of the cleaning solutions they used.
I might ponder if Sarah ever had to tell little Isaac to stop picking his nose.
I’ve even thought that perhaps the Garden of Eden’s greatest appeal was that before the fall, there was no laundry. Think of the extra hours each week that this gave Eve to contemplate weightier philosophical issues . . . to take up a hobby . . . to get her hair done. I’ve actually designed a laundry room banner proudly sporting Genesis 2:25 that I am convinced would be a huge seller to laundry-doing moms everywhere.
Then were naked, and they felt no shame
Yet another tragic consequence of the fall.
If I’m being honest with myself, I will admit I’m jealous of these linear thinkers. Although, I’m not completely sure if such people actually exist or… are instead are just mythical creatures like Big Foot or Amish telemarketers. Does everyone, even those who claim to have a train, actually secretly live in a hot air balloon? Are the pews full of people like me, looking intently at the pastor while wondering Noah was obligated to bring two fleas aboard the ark?
I live in fear that my Pastor may one day adopt the practices of my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Beakman. And exactly what is this device of evil used by cruel speakers through the ages? When the listener least expects it . . . they ask questions.
On any given Sunday, my mind will wander off the sermon, just the tiniest bit, and is now thinking about the back of that woman’s head, and why she let her roots grow so long and if the root plants in my garden are ready to be pulled since it looks like snow and I really should stop and pick up a new shovel and . . . “Carol,” the pastor says cheerily, “Could you tell us why you believe the Apostle Paul was so quick to judge the church in Ephesus?”
I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with roots. And my other usually safe fallback of always answering “Jesus” wasn’t going to work here either. Man! Where do I get one of those linear thought patterns?
So far I’ve been lucky. My pastor has continued with the traditional model of preaching as a single participant event, not a team sport. That’s good because . . . I’ve never been good at sports . . . although I once thought I’d like gymnastics . . . till I saw that Olympic girl bend herself in half backwards . . . which I’m thinking causes spinal cord damage. She looked like a pretzel . . . we haven’t pretzels in a long time . . . maybe I should get some next time I’m in . . . <watch the balloon drift away>
Learn more about the author Carol Barnier
Want more of Carol? Check out Salvation in a Running Shoe