God Shows Up
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
On Tuesday, we expected one to three inches. Instead, we received a blizzard that at one point created white-out conditions that closed I-70 and obscured not only my view of Quandry Peak but my neighbor’s house across the street.
On Wednesday, Colorado blue skies returned and Quandry emerged in all her majesty.
The other day during Mass, I realized that Easter marked my thirtieth anniversary in the Catholic Church. This was remarkable to me because in many ways, I still feel like a newcomer.
Mom and I lived together for twenty years after my father passed away in her arms in Kiev, Ukraine. During that time, she accompanied me to Mass every Saturday evening. When she moved back to Fort Lauderdale, she returned to the Presbyterian church where she had sung in the choir for forty years.
This got me wondering about how we choose our church home.
My decision to join the Catholic Church took seven years. I first attended Mass during college at the University of Michigan and continued when I worked on Wall Street, where I would sometimes attend Mass on my lunch hour. I sampled several other Christian denominations as well, but was always drawn back to Eucharist. It was a wonder to me that I could slip into Mass on a workday and participate the celebration of Communion.
I understand that not everyone finds God in the same place. My oldest brother is active in a non-denominational mega-church. My second brother is a staunch atheist, although I bet he senses the Wonder of his surroundings when he is fishing 150 miles off-shore. My sister shares her faith as she offers lunch at a small church that serves the poor.
Next, I asked my Facebook friends how they chose which church they attended.
Pam, Barb, and Leslie said that they had found a favorite pastor on television or online. Eventually, they craved the community to be found in worshiping in a local church, and now they combine the two.
Julie described being brought up in a Lutheran church and then joining the Catholic church of her husband, when they had children. For Cate, it was the reverse, and she joined the Episcopal church.
Beanie and her husband are actively involved in church planting. “I didn't choose my church. God did! After starting a church years ago with my husband (We started a bible study that grew to 30 people in my living room every Friday night, we moved to a school and it grew to 60.) We learned a lot and turned the church over to another Pastor. Off we went into an evangelistic ministry. Finally, one day while walking through my house, God spoke to me in an audible voice and said " You can go back to church now." It was quite startling but assuring that He had the perfect place for us. We went to two churches a few times, then my husband said, ‘Remember that church that we talked about visiting years ago but never did? Let's go there, Sunday.’ I didn't say anything at the time but remember feeling that God was directing us. Sure enough, when we got there the Pastor spoke right to us and our lives. He didn't know us and we didn't know him. But from that day forward, we have been ministered to by God through our Pastor, through instructions, and just plain ole refreshment. It's been 3 years now and it has been well with our souls. But we can tell that the time is drawing near for us to go back out there soon. Because the fields are white and the workers are few. Amen.”
Then there are spiritual journeys sparked by life events.
Sean described his, this way, “I grew up Roman Catholic and was a good Catholic but eventually became an angry, resentful, drug user. But on December 10, 1983 that all changed and God gave me faith to leave the anger, drugs, and hostility behind me. It's been a long road of growth and progress, the Assembly of God church was there…my journey eventually brought me to a Reformed/Lutheran approach to theology and I also developed great respect for church history (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic thought).”
Bonnie found her church home under similar life-altered circumstances, “I first started going to a Catholic church as a young girl. I received my first communion, then as a teen went to a non-denominational church. It wasn't until I went through a divorce that I had not 1, not 2, but 3 people that asked me to the same church that I never thought I would set foot inside. It is considered a Pentecostal Church which coming from my background of a very conservative Church didn't seem like something I would like, but since three people had asked me I decided to go. After going to this church I knew it was my home. I can't even explain it was like the Spirit had me from the get-go. The first three years going there every Sunday, I cried. I was exhausted, it wasn't a bad cry, it was healing cry.”
My friend Lolly, a cradle Catholic, wrote, “I think we fool ourselves if we think we choose our Church. Faith is always God’s initiative—we only get to respond, ignore, or allow ourselves to be confused. I don’t like the notion of ‘choosing a church’ it seems to strengthen a cultural misunderstanding of faith. But it certainly is an American reality, isn’t it? Then I read Beanie’s post and thought, she’s right- God chooses. Church is not a building or a place. It’s God and His people. So my answer to your question, ‘How did you choose your church?’ I didn’t.”
I belong to a 14-er’s group on Facebook. I doubt I’ll ever summit one of those peaks, but I like to believe that those who do must have at least one moment when they look across those peaks and experience God in a way that transcends liturgy. This evening the sun painted the clouds surrounding Quandry Peak an impressive flamingo pink, the snow from yesterday’s blizzard has melted into the dirt-paved road in front of my house, and I am grateful that I get to write this column. It has opened my heart and mind to others and sharing what I learn.
At the start of this week I wondered how we find God. After listening to my friends, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what we call our cathedral. God is there; we are only required to join Him.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson writes a regular religion column for the Summit Daily News and is the author of ten books. You can find her at www.suzanneelizabeths.com