I was watching this video last night and was about half-way through when I burst into tears.
It’s a collaboration of over 65 churches and Christian movements in the UK, their music ministers calling down blessings over their country. And if you watch their faces, you see their connection to the Holy Spirit, their love for each other, and their witness to a God they know personally. Some of the members of the choirs and ensembles were so transparent with the power of God moving through them that it brought out a spontaneous and involuntary response, my hands up in worship which is rare for me as a Northeastern American Catholic. And so, I was crying, but not just because of the beauty, care, and power of Jesus that these worshippers brought to me through a screen.
I was crying because there is nothing like this here. In America. In the Church in which I was raised and still serve today. Yes, there’s a musical collaboration from my Church floating around, and it’s beautiful, though it’s unfortunately front-loaded with male voices that don’t represent the beautiful diversity of our church. And I’ve seen no undertaking to connect with churches of other denominations, locally, musically or in any other way. And it makes me wonder: in all of recent history until now, would there be a better time in this country to cross denominational lines in order to hold up a picture of Jesus and to serve His Body as an ecumenical witness to the world?
Instead there are political and financial discussions at the highest levels, far from the physical and spiritual needs of a flock that is suffering daily. I heard a popular priest on a podcast say that this coronavirus time was a “welcome and restful retreat of free-time” for him, and I shook my head as I walked, his words echoing in my ears. The best priests I know are busier now than ever, finding ways to engage, teach, and empower their parishioners and even stepping into physical danger to serve the people most in need.
And so, all of this made me seriously wonder for the first time in my adult life if this is the church to which I will always belong. And I don’t know the answer. You see, I miss church, and all of the parts I love the most are not accessible to me now. Yes, I’m hearing homilies, some of them outstanding from my own tradition and from others, too. I’m praying, reading Scripture, studying, worshipping, and trying to provide music ministry in some way that might help somebody. My faith is as big a part of my life as it’s been since I first claimed it as an adult, which is to say, the lens through which I see everything.
But I don’t feel the Spirit move in me when I record a song for my community because Mike’s not there. Neither is Monica. Or Corinne. Or Leo. I don’t get to talk to Ellen or Lori or Karen, and see their beautiful families after Mass. I’m not watching my intentional community approach the Eucharist with humility and reverence or hear their praying and singing together with their whole selves. I miss it, and them. We’re a church family, a body, and we’re not together now and this is for the good of all of us, but the absence of them and especially the Eucharist makes the darker parts of my church experience so much more pronounced.
Where I belong in the Family of God is a big question, and so as one does when faced with a big life-question, I turned to my Mother and picked up my rosary beads. Seeking direction or a sign, I started the meditation of the Hail Marys, and a few decades in, I had the grounding sense that I am not the only one with questions right now. Far from it. In fact, every seeker, believer, church and denomination on the planet is in a pivot moment today, deciding who and what our experience of faith will look like on the other side of this crisis. We’re a church desperately in need of reform on many fronts and the clear sense I got from Mother Mary during my prayer time last night is that reform is exactly what we’ll get: the pieces and elements and functions and roles and methods of our faith, all of these will be necessarily re-formed in this time of trial, and this is a good thing. God willing, when the distillation of this process is complete, we will be re-formed and re-fined into something closer to the heart of God, and the whole world will know Jesus because of our love.
Amen, Lord, let it be. Help us see.