There is a God
I'm going to share something that's kind of embarrassing to admit. But since this blog is all about sharing the reality of this journey of starting a church, and learning along the way, and since we are all beloveds forever no matter our mistakes and oversights, AND because God delights in turning our missteps into beauty that would not have existed otherwise...I'll go ahead and name it.
Our church has met a few times now, and as we've set up the gatherings, a key focus has been making them as accessible as possible and finding ways to make each ritual and practice meaningful and engaging for people with and without intellectual disabilities alike. So I've had to pay a lot of attention to the form our practices take. And to focus on it more than I usually do when planning a worship service (because I can't assume that people coming are fine sitting in silence for long periods of time, like to engage via abstract thought, etc.). Even though of course we thought about content too, the form piece was taking a really significant place in the front seat, since that's where we've needed to exercise the majority of our creativity and ingenuity.
After our third church worship gathering, I realized something. (Here's the embarrassing part.) Other than the time we celebrated communion together, where we did a simplified/adapted liturgy that included the Lord's prayer and one or two communion prayers, we haven't actually prayed and talked directly to God during our worship services. We did sing some songs that were directed to God (and, to be fair, that counts as prayer) and we shared our prayer requests and said "Loving God, receive our prayer."* But in terms of actual, "Are you there God? It's us, church" in real time - Nope.
It made me realize how easy it is to lose the forest when you're focusing intently on the bark patterns of each individual tree.
Yesterday morning I was reading the daily lectionary passages, and one of the readings was one of my favorite texts: Ezekiel 37 - the Valley of Dry Bones.
The narrative begins like this:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."
Reading this narrative, I noticed the repeated refrain about how when this all happens they will "know that I am the Lord." I reflected on one key reason we gather: to remember together (and remind each other) about who God is. God is One who can bring life to dry bones. And God chooses to involve humans, like Ezekiel (and like us), in that process of bringing to life what was long dead.
We need to be reminded of that, at least weekly.
So...I think it's important to communicate directly with God together during church (I know, a groundbreaking conclusion). Then we can concretely acknowledge God's character and presence and reality and power - things that it's easy for any of us to lose a grasp on in the struggles and routines and narratives of everyday life.
This oversight was a good reminder of how easy it can be to lose track of some of the most fundamental things, especially when so much energy is going toward innovation and experimentation in terms of structure.
The form of our gatherings is crucial, particularly when it comes to accessibility and participation and engagement of all members of the Body, but it's a little meaningless unless what we're creating access to is a space where we encounter the living, loving God who we can talk to (in words, sounds, groans, or silence), worship, and be transformed by together.
God, remind us and help us to hold all these things together.
*Sidenote: We say "receive" our prayer instead of "hear" because we minimize language that focuses on particular senses that not everyone uses. It may not be a big deal to a lot of people, but it's also really not that hard to just use a different word to make sure to include everyone, so why not?