I skipped church last Sunday. I wasn’t sick or out of town, and I didn’t have a scheduling conflict. I simply decided not to go. Instead, while the kids slept in, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, slid on my running shoes and slipped out the front door. I jogged down the bike path with the sun warm on the back of my neck and the sound of birdsong in my ears.
Fifteen years ago, when I started attending church regularly again after a two-decade hiatus from both religion and faith, I couldn’t get enough of it. I sprang out of bed every Sunday morning, eager to immerse myself in the worship experience. I drank in every part of the service, from the scripture readings and the sermon to the hymns and the communal prayers, like I was drinking a tall glass of cold water on a scorching August day. I loved the anticipation I felt almost every time I opened my Bible or walked through the church doors. The weekly ritual of liturgy and community became the rich soil in which my faith grew and flourished.
More recently, though, I admitted to my husband that attending church has come to feel less imperative. While I’m always glad I went, and I am especially grateful for my church community, which nudges me out of my comfortable places to connect with people whom I might not ordinarily cross paths, the truth is, the spiritual practice of weekly worship doesn’t enliven me like it once did.
In some ways this feels like a loss. I miss the freshness of my new faith. I miss the energy that zinged through my heart, mind and soul on Sunday mornings. I miss feeling invigorated and inspired after nearly every church service, eager to do my small part in furthering God’s kingdom on Earth.
At the same time, though, I am aware that both my experience of church and my faith itself, while mellower and a little less sparkly, have also matured into something deeper and wider. My understanding of church and God is less contained. There is an openness and an expansiveness to my faith that feels right in this season of my life. And I know this faith that is both more grounded and more expansive has its roots in all those years of weekly church. Those 15 years of Sundays are the foundation upon which my faith of today continues to change and grow.
Last Sunday morning as I ran along the bike trail, I prayed for friends facing health challenges, for loved ones traveling overseas and for people I know who are grieving, lost and lonely. I inhaled the scent of freshly mowed grass and noticed the orange flash of an Oriole swooping overhead. I smiled and huffed a breathless “good morning!” to the runners, dog walkers and cyclists traveling in the opposite direction. I gave thanks for the cool breeze on my face and for a body that can run (albeit less quickly than it used to).
Last Sunday morning I didn’t sing hymns or pray aloud in unison with others. There was no bread and no wine, no scripture read, no sermon preached. I didn’t wear heels or mascara or sit in a pew. But there was communion, peace, prayers and the presence of God. Last Sunday morning, out running on the trail, I was at church.