Searching For God Together
I walked into St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria full of expectation. The past few months I’ve spent time far more time searching for God than I have in a while, and I thought walking into this beautiful, sacred space built as a place of worship would fill me with a sense of “I AM.” I thought surely if I can find God on my yoga mat, in comedy, in science, in moments around a bonfire, in eye contact and lovemaking and dinners with friends, I could find Him here. I’ve grown weary of church in the way I’ve always known it, quite honestly. I’ve grown deeply tired of evangelical Christian rhetoric, tired of the patronizing “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality I encounter when dealing with my LGBT and non-believing friends within the evangelical church, and tired to the point of annoyance with the poor writing and emotional boy-banding of the songs we sing and the lights we so expertly manipulate when we sing them. I’m over it, you guys. I’ve finally entered a space in my searching, thanks to excellent new teachers and friends, wherein I allow myself to admit that I’ve stepped away from the Sunday morning church scene. I need a damn break. More often than not I leave feeling irritated rather than inspired and I don’t feel God inside those walls in any deeper ways than I do outside them, so I’m taking a break and setting Sundays aside for brunch, like a respectable heathen.
However, I have been listening to and learning from teachers who create liturgies for the church and frame their search for God with the creation of art and music. They have been, and many currently are, as full of doubt and as tired of the Sunday morning scene as I am, and I feel deeply connected to their art, their conversations, and their searching. In this vein, I felt certain walking in a centuries old cathedral, full of sacred art and beauty, would fill me with reverence that I haven’t felt in the walls of a church in a long, long time. It didn’t.
He didn’t meet me there like I thought He would. I didn’t have the “I AM” experience I’d been counting on. I looked around, eyes wet and desperately searching, and I knew that I wasn’t going to find God there. Some of the most beautiful architecture, painting, and sculptures on earth are inside that church and others like it. The details in each pane of glass and the grandeur of each marble column make it clear that this is a place meant to house God. We built Him a church, and dammit if He wasn’t there.
Can I tell you what I did find? What I did feel? I felt deeply, viscerally connected to hundreds of years of people like me who have walked through the doors of that cathedral looking for God. I felt every one of them. In my search for God, I found… people. I felt their panic over lack, their fear of sickness, their terror over losing the people they love, their doubt, their anger, their cynicism. Looking back I feel now that my longing to meet with God there is but an echo of the longing expressed in every painting, every sculpture, every note of every line sung within those walls over the hundreds of years St Stephen’s has kept watch over Vienna. And, all of the sudden, I felt Jesus.
God baffles me. I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s too big. Science is making it even more complicated to get God, because all of a sudden the universe He created is way bigger, more majestic, and mystifying than I ever knew. God is just too damn big for my brain, but I’m trying. I am trying. You know what, though? I really, really dig Jesus. The few things I’m certain must be true about God are because of Jesus. I’m not talking about the felt board cut-out, blue-eyed, handsome white boy Jesus of Sunday School. I don’t want anything to do with that guy. That guy keeps a list of how often I say fuck and how often I fuck and I don’t want to hang out with him because he’s boring and judgmental and not very nice to my gay friends, despite how much he looks like Jared Leto. But the guy who turned water into wine for a bunch of partiers because His mama wanted him to, the guy who shamed a hoard of angry church leaders who, according the rules they lived by, were perfectly justified in dragging a naked woman into the streets to be killed, the guy who hung out with people who had nothing to offer him except their company, the guy who treated women with respect beyond his time, the guy who wanted nothing to do with the religious establishment of his day, the guy who said we should be kind to one another, love one another as we love ourselves, give what we have to those who have less, the guy who cooked for his friends (Hello, 5000 fishes?), the guy who wept when his friend died even though he knew it wasn’t permanent, the guy who met everyone right where they were, the guy who called for forgiveness always, always, always… I really dig that guy. I feel like I can know Him, but I’ve got to get some space from the people who talk about Him all the time. I can’t see Jesus very clearly when I’m listening to all the conservative evangelical talk about Jesus. Mostly, I see that felt board cut-out guy I can’t stand. It’s nothing to do with the intentions of the evangelical churchgoers I know, it’s just that I’ve heard those stories in that way for so many years they don’t mean anything, anymore. Like saying a word over and over until it sounds like nonsense, trying to understand Jesus in that way is like trying to make the word buffalo make sense the 542nd time in a row. I got nothin.
When I walked into that church, though, I felt people. I felt people who had no idea about God and people who desperately needed something to get them through the night. I think Jesus must be God’s answer to those people because Jesus always meets us right where we are. He gets dirty. He drinks the wine. He invites us to be ourselves, to bring our good and our bad and our cute and our ugly and be present with Him and with all of it. Together. So, ultimately, what I felt in St Stephen’s that night was… together. And for a girl who felt alone, that was pretty damn good.