Longing for Grace

Longing for Grace April 2, 2015

I won’t be in church on Easter, but I wish I could be.

grace
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If you’d asked what I was doing inside a megachurch that sunny Sunday morning, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I’d left my children with their dad, intending to go home and work, maybe take a walk. But after a few minutes alone in the car a familiar ache returned, the one that took over whenever busyness yielded to the backdrop of my impending divorce.

I’d driven past suburban Boston’s Grace Chapel a hundred times. That day, I stopped. Inside, a band played and a woman sang lyrics of yearning and forgiveness. People were swaying, arms upstretched. A man near the front was crying and soon so was I, unsure what I was witnessing, much less feeling. Was it grief or joy, or something else? In my loss, I felt a sense of comfort, but more: awe and encompassing love, unlike anything I’d experienced in other spiritual contexts.

It was powerful enough to bring me back again and again and again. For years, I found Grace a place of deep caring and hope—and yet a place where I don’t fit. It wasn’t for lack of trying. For months after that first visit, I went there almost every Sunday. I attended a divorce support group, and read the Bible at night after my kids were asleep. Grace was a gentler place than I’d imagined from stereotypes I’d absorbed as a left-leaning New Englander. I met mostly whole and happy people there, people who seemed remarkably free to focus on the world beyond themselves. Belief in Jesus did this.

Yet, in spite of badly wanting to, I wasn’t able to find my way in. When worshippers were called to the altar to accept Christ, I couldn’t do it. Politics were part of it, an assumption of shared beliefs that were not mine. Once after church, a woman invited me to attend an anti-choice rally with her (only she called it pro-life). And while I was drawn to Jesus and his teachings, I felt more connected to the pastor’s sermons and the writings of C.S. Lewis than I did Paul’s epistles, which seemed to harbor misogyny. The biggest impediment: I couldn’t fathom a loving, all-powerful Father who allowed such human suffering—no matter how many times, and how many ways, I heard suffering justified within a Christian context.

I prayed, meditated, sought answers from believers. My doubts would abate, and return. Though I couldn’t find my way in, I also couldn’t stay away. The notion of human divinity or the God “within” didn’t resonate with me. It was the Holy Spirit, and evangelical worship, that drew me—even if I couldn’t define exactly what the Holy Spirit was.

I hoped too to give my children what I saw as the gift of faith. For a while they came to church with me, but disconnects prevailed. After her Christian camp counselor encouraged her to tell her dad about Jesus so he could go to heaven, my daughter decided not to return to that camp—or to church. It felt wrong to push her when she felt so keenly, especially since only-Christians-go-to-heaven was a sticking point for me, too.

It’s not that my background is without religiosity. My father came from a long line of Protestants, and my grandmother was a Christian Scientist. I respect people of faith, and the principles that derive from it. I wish I could believe, even now. What keeps me from it? Pride? Too much head, too little heart? Or is it the legacy of my father, who though Methodist-raised was aptly named Thomas, who carried me into the woods on his shoulders before I could walk and taught me that holiness was everywhere in nature though not always in church.

My kids are almost grown now, and I’m remarried to a man who for years was a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. We exchanged vows in the beautiful garden of a UU church. I felt abundant love during that ceremony, not just between my husband and me but among our guests and all throughout that place. But I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit in the same way I did at Grace. The mystery of this—the sense that something’s there, ineffable yet undeniable—is why I still can’t let go of the possibility of faith.

Sometimes at night as my husband sleeps, I go online and sing along to Maranatha or Hillsong. When my eyes well up, I’m no longer surprised. Another Easter approaches, the day that is the essence of Christ, of constancy and forgiveness and beginning anew. Easter is faith, and it’s when I’m most aware of my lack of it. I’ll be with family that Sunday, but I will feel a longing for Grace, for seeking to find God together, beyond humanness, as the Holy Spirit enters.

 


CB AndersonAbout CB Anderson

CB Anderson is a cross-genre writer and journalist whose work has appeared in the Miami Herald, msnbc.com, Boston Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Iowa Review, and Flash Fiction Forward (W.W. Norton & Co.), among others. Her short-story collection River Talk (C&R Press) was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014. For more information, please visit cbanderson.net.

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