We went to one of those mega churches yesterday just to switch things up. Entering a mega church, the “formula” is established. You see the same kind of people, the same kind of haircuts and wardrobe, untucked shirts and graphic T’s. The wall of music hits you. I’m not criticizing. The thing that strikes me is just how MANY people are here. If I were to take a cross sample of the neighbourhood, that’s a LOT of folk who all chose to be here rather than at home watching tv on the couch. It’s impressive.
What all these people want, is an EXPERIENCE. They want to feel Jesus in a way that matters. It’s not really much different from the Catholics. It is less formal in a sense, and yet I reminded my wife, that it’s not REALLY spontaneous, if it was they would be doing something different and unpredictable every single week and that is not the case. A mega church is a known quantity at this point.
It was Transfiguration Sunday according to the regular liturgy, something that does not show up on the protestant calendar. There was no attempt at the mega church to link up with this larger faith roadmap, they prefer the do-it-yourself arrangement.
When I go back home, I turn on Father Edward Meeks and get his run-down of the Transfiguration. As usual, he is on the mark, spotlessly appointed, and firmly in decorum, dressed in the purple robes the Church uses during Lent, approaching Easter. There is nothing wrong with the purple robes. Like the sacraments, the visible is a connection to the divine, consciously setting something apart and making it special. My grandmother used to love the robes, the candles. They were her way to chase experience somewhere beyond the pale of the everyday.
Father Meeks talks about how the Transfiguration was a rare glimpse. He talks about how we get those mountain and valley experiences and a lot in between. Matters of the eternal are not always a comfortable ride. I got my own peek at the transcendent the last few months. Coming off of a quadruple bypass in January, I have felt a lot of things rather acutely - the fleeting nature of life, the ties of family and friends, the meaning of time. I also know a lot of people lately who have been touched by death. They have seen a loved one pass on, and they are looking for a bit of feel-good, to balance out the bad. Sometimes when you put in an order for “more feeling” you will get it, whether you like it or not.
I am just a fellow traveller in this big room, in the dark, with my hand raised and a wall of sound all around me. I am no different from anyone else. They want me to have an experience, and I am also seeking experience, watching my quadruple bypass recede in the rearview mirror. I want to get on with things, want to get on with normal. I want to lose sight of the depths of feeling I’ve necessarily been plunged into, like cold water. More confusing, I also want to keep some connection with that depth of feeling even if it is uncomfortable.
It’s not wrong to seek experience. We will get that ride, the highs, the lows and all the in-betweens no matter how you slice it. Lent after all, is about seeking some kind of parity between human volitiuon and the divine. The caveat for the mega churches, is that they often seem to amplify the quest for experience, and yet somewhere beyond their control and mine, we will get the full range no matter what. I just hope at the end of things I am left on the mountain in the stillness, alone with Jesus, trying to make sense of it all.
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