Last night I dreamed I was inside a half-razed cathedral. Parts of the ceiling and walls had been destroyed. Dozens of icons were clustered together at one end of the nave, stoic and forgotten. From a distance they seemed beautiful and valuable. I knew the church was slated for demolition and decided to take some icons with me—to save them. But upon closer inspection, they were misshapen, garishly painted, and made of coarse, crumbly plaster. I searched among them for one that I recognized or might want—specifically for Mary—but they were ugly and unfamiliar to me. My husband used a chisel to remove a mosaic of Christ from the floor, and we took that.
When I woke, I knew the dream was a metaphor for my present relationship with the church. I used to sit in church during Vespers and weep. I loved being there. I wanted the inside of my heart to be like that, hushed and holy, a place where even the shadows were blessed. I loved feeling like I was part of something, that I was connected to the other people there, even if I didn’t know their names or speak their language.
Now when I go it just feels…like nothing. Even when it’s nice to see old friends and the homily is good, the feeling I used to get—that I’d stepped into some kind of current sweeping me toward god—that’s gone. I know the church hasn’t changed—the Orthodox Church’s whole deal is that it never changes. It’s me. Whether or not I desired it, my spiritual perspective continued to evolve.
To wit: right now, I really can’t get down with the notion that Jesus was the one and only son of god. So when I sit in church and observe all the pomp and circumstance, I can’t help but think Jesus would be face-palming it if he were there.
Christians, IMO, have made an idol out of Jesus. It calls to mind a horde of zombies, staggering arms-out towards “braaaaains.” Only instead of brains, it’s Jesus. The Savior. The Son of God. There’s a reason the Bible is chock-full of stories about people and idols. Humans like to worship stuff, and idols are easy. They’re portable and adorable and mascot-y. Idols don’t challenge your worldview. They don’t cause you to think about yourself. All you have to do is placate their demands (whatever you perceive those to be) and work yourself up into a frenzy on holy days.
That’s how church seems to me. Like people just chanting and waving some smoke around so they can have an emotional catharsis or feel obedient. I can’t help but think that everyone’s missing Jesus’s message, which was often riddled with paradoxes and not straightforward at all — which to me indicates that he wanted people to think about what he was saying, to really give it some consideration. Take Luke 17:21. “Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For the kingdom of God is within you.”
What is the kingdom of god, anyway? It sounds like something that god would be in control of, a perfect place where everything is just and groovy. So that couldn’t be Earth, right? It couldn’t be our present conflict- and disease-addled reality. But that seems to be exactly what Jesus was suggesting. Moreover, he said it’s inside of us, not at church (or temple, or mosque), and not in the afterlife. When I read that passage, I’m like, Please, Jesus, elaborate. Tell me how to get there, how to understand that, how to live in that kingdom.
But Jesus didn’t. He couldn’t. His message wasn’t a set of instructions; it was a clarion call, a warning—more smelling salts than Google-map. The zombies of Jesus’s time were the same as they are today: blind and mindless followers, out for themselves, devouring their neighbors. Jesus was like, Yo! Wake up! Zombies are coming and they will infect you! Find the kingdom, get inside the gates, it’s your only hope!
That’s how it seems to me anyway, at this particular moment in time. I’ve accepted the changeability of my perspective. After all, Jesus himself said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I miss church because I miss how easy it was. I miss being part of a faith community. But I don’t miss god—I can’t, because it’s all around me, all the time. It’s inescapable. I just have to open my eyes and look.