Go to church: advice for exes

All Saint's Church, MumbaiI went to church last Sunday morning. I was in Bombay, visiting a friend there who happens to be a Christian and a regular church-goer. So I went along, more or less for the ride.

It rearranged my head for me. Not in a neat, organized way—that so rarely happens, although it would have been nice if it had. Instead, it shook things up and left them strewn all over the place. I’m still sorting through the mess.

You should go to church too. Regularly. Not necessarily the same one. And not because you are looking for a church where you will feel comfortable and able to worship. In fact, if you do feel comfortable, you might want to take off running the other way, because what you may have found is yet another “truth cult.” Don’t join it.

On the contrary, go to a church that scares you. Go to church in the same way and for the same reason that people with spider phobias first look at pictures of spiders, then sit in the same room with spiders who are crawling around safely within glassed terraria, and then eventually take spiders into their hands and let them crawl over their bodies.

Because they want to lose their fear.

tarantulaIf you leave the Two by Twos, you will also leave with a church phobia—especially if you were born and raised in it. You will have a lot of inaccurate and somewhat frightening ideas about people who attend other churches. These are ideas you may know are inaccurate, but seeing it for yourself is far more powerful than simply knowing.

I haven’t been to a church service of any kind for many years. Possibly decades. I went once to an Anglican service on Easter Sunday to hear a friend sing in the choir. I’ve sat through the better part of a Catholic mass. (I was late.) And I’ve wandered through services and baptisms at Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles, but that’s different. That cathedral is also a major tourist site and designed architecturally to accommodate voyeuristic wandering. I’ve also visited churches between services and sat in shrines trying to meditate.

None of those came close to the experience I had on Sunday morning. Sunday morning, during my friend’s church service, I was fully aware of my fear. That’s what you want to be.

To whatever extent that you can, you want to participate in the worship service in the same way that everyone else is. Think of this as a cultural experience. You grew up in religious Siberia. You are visiting civilization for the first time and trying to learn more about it. And the only way to really learn about anything is to do it. So do it. Just don’t do so much you have a heart attack.

You want to feel the degree of fear that is tolerable for you, that you can manage without shutting down or dissociating or otherwise mentally running away. If you start running away in your mind, then it’s time to leave physically. You’ve had enough.

There’s always next week.

You want to sit there while they pass the collection plate and be aware of your heart racing at the very fact that you are sitting in a church where they do this. You want to look around and notice that you are worshipping God in a church made of hands. You want to see communion being taken without anyone passing a plate of white bread with the crusts cut off (or whatever they used in your Sunday morning meeting that seemed to be the only way things could be done). You want to leave that church and know that there is no excess bread and grape juice (or wine, depending on where you lived) being swept off quickly into the kitchen as if bread disposal is a mysterious and mystical act that only the elder can see.

You want to look around while the service is unfolding and realize these people have come to worship God out of a faith as deep as any you have ever seen. Despite everything the workers told you about “outsiders” only attending church for the sake of appearances or because they think all you need to do is go through the motions, these people believe. Some of them more. Some of them less.

Of course, some of them really are going through the motions—just as you were told they would be. However, some of the “saints” in gospel meeting were going through the motions too. I went through the motions sometimes. You might have yourself. Faith is not evenly distributed in a congregation. It is not always so easy to maintain, and the same people will have more at some times than others. That’s something you need to see.

Watch the pastor or the priest until you understand that this is not a “false prophet” intentionally leading his flock astray, but someone doing the best he or she can to help others get closer to God.

Go to church and feel scared that you’re even daring to sit there. Feel even more scared to observe that the workers were mistaken—or perhaps deliberately even lied to you. Keep going until you’re not scared anymore.

Only when the fear is gone will you be free to decide for yourself what you think of Christianity, what you think of going to church, and whether and what kind of church you want to attend.

And the point of leaving is freedom, isn’t it?


4 thoughts on “Go to church: advice for exes

  1. Ma Belle December 8, 2013 / 1:50 am

    Thanks Ashana, I’ve found this helpful to read. Recently I’ve noticed myself feeling increasingly ‘pushed’ into doing things by people from church – but have then realized that, in fact, they were only suggesting options and I interpreted that as them bullying me into something. I guess it relates back to times in my life when I’ve felt powerless and forced to do unpleasant things by authority figures.
    Anyhow, your post kind of clarifies something that’s going on in my head right now: trying to disentangle what’s happening in the present from the memories of the past it evokes.

    • Ashana M December 8, 2013 / 8:25 am

      I’m so glad this helped.

  2. mccracli December 10, 2013 / 10:51 am

    Brings back memories…..don’t know if the attachment will come through – guess we’ll see! Thanks for the post.

    • Ashana M December 10, 2013 / 4:51 pm

      Glad you enjoyed. It doesn’t look like the attachment came. Perhaps you can send it to me another way?

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