I recently began ushering at my church once a month during the Sunday service. We sit in the back of the church, ready to tackle any emergency (e.g. a "nutter" who wanders in from the street, or, God forbid, a medical crisis). Last Sunday, I looked over at the other ushers and noticed that three of them had their eyes closed during the sermon and seemed awfully...relaxed.
I thought of one of our resident Super Church Ladies who bakes the Communion bread, cleans and polishes the church silver, faithfully works in the office every week, and does too many behind-the-scenes acts of service to count.
I never see her in Worship, unless it's her Sunday to usher. And I totally understand.
After I came back to the faith, but before I had officially attached myself to a church, I was a pietistic prig. I prayed all the time and constantly sought a connection to God in the midst of my self-destructive personal life. I clamored for a sense of God's presence whenever and however I could get it. In retrospect, my hunger for sacred experience seems somewhat self-serving. It was done in isolation, and benefited only myself.
I don't do all that praying and meditating anymore. Probably because I'm calmer and happy. And perhaps because I'm so immersed in helping to sustain the institution. I don't have the energy to serve the institution and do the ceaseless prayer bit the way I used to.
Jasper FForde writes in Something Rotten (a brilliant postmodern meta-take on genre), that religion gives to its devotees "a warm sense of belonging, protection from the world's evils and a reward in the afterlife---oh, and I think there's a T-shirt in it somewhere, too."
I'm really into the "warm sense of belonging" and have been for awhile. It has energized me even as I fight fatigue and burnout. My mother once joked that I seem to be "at the church every time the doors open," which is definitely not true (just when she tries to call me). She thinks it's all about my theological piety, but she's wrong about that.
I wrote this post during our Wednesday night Taize service, at which I've been ushering for several years, with help from Dr. Burg. Before I started writing the post, I wrote a press release to publicize this service that must go to the newspaper tonight. Despite barely paying attention, I was aware of the beauty of the music and I did catch the prayers. But I was otherwise engaged, and engaged in one activity (the press release) meant to keep the Taize service well-attended, and thus, a going concern for our church.
As I'm typing this up, it occurs to me that the acts of service we do can be considered a kind of prayer. And this isn't a new idea; that was the dealio with Brother Lawrence, I think. I suppose I tend to privilege formal meditation and established spiritual practices as the best ways to access the Holy. But, maybe I'm okay after all, even if I'm writing and doing other stuff when I should be in pietistic devotion.