It was another one of those days when I debated with myself as to whether to go to church or not.
This is easy for Unitarian Universalists to do. Unlike in many other faiths, going to church isn’t really a requirement for us. As our covenant says, “Service is our prayer,” and many UUs take that message to heart; there are several members of our church who put in hours every month assisting with construction for Habitat for Humanity, serving at a food pantry in a neighboring town or helping out at a women’s shelter in Lowell but almost never show up at a Sunday service. And this is okay: service is our prayer, and they demonstrate exemplary Unitarian Universalist values in what they do day in and day out.
So I wasn’t so sure about showing up yesterday morning. There are plenty of Sundays every year when I’m committed to teach Sunday school, serve as entrance greeter, or both, and on those days I have no choice about getting myself to church. On mornings like yesterday, when I’m obligation-free at church, it’s easy to contemplate staying home to catch up on the Sunday papers and maybe make a pot of soup.
But I went, because in general my conscience tells me it’s okay to miss church but I have to have a reason more compelling than inertia: I have to not go because there’s something more important I plan to do at home, not just because I don’t really feel like it. And as always happens in these situations, I was so glad I went. The guest speaker, a disciple of Mary Daly, was excellent: both educational and entertaining, plus the service began with an announcement about a new hire that I was glad to know about.
But more than any element of content in the service, it’s just good to be at church. The branch of forsythia in a vase below the pulpit shimmered with a golden glow cutting a bright line through the air: a simple branch of blooms rather than the more elaborate floral arrangements we have at other times of year. (Even our flower arrangements reflect our locavore priorities these days.) The candle wax smelled soothing and old-fashioned. The soft seat cushion of the pew, the sunlight slanting in through the east windows, the occasional flutter of paper as someone opened the program or flipped through the hymnal: all soothed my spirit and reminded me of the ineffable spell of a hushed room.
It’s good to be at church because often, that’s the one time of week when I spend an hour sitting quietly and listening. I could chalk this up to the busy pace of daily life or the onslaught of stimulation from the radio, the internet, the newspaper, and real live people around me; but really it’s just that spending an hour listening isn’t something many of us do regardless of the reasons. At church I sit still and I focus on what other people are saying. One hour a week isn’t really enough, but to do that at all as a regular practice should be a priority.
As we filed into coffee hour after the service, I chatted with a long-time acquaintance from another town who was attending yesterday as a guest musician. She confessed that she never goes to church if she’s not performing, but that every time she goes, she leaves feeling intellectually stimulated and spiritually soothed.
I do too, and that’s why I need to keep making it a priority as many Sundays as possible. As Woody Allen said about life, a lot of what you get out of church happens just from showing up, and I’m always glad when I do.