Friday, November 1, 2013

Houses of the Holy

I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. My family was faithful and dedicated to the faith, following the liturgical calendar as a guide to the rhythm of our lives. I made my first communion when I was 7 and was confirmed at 11, beginning my spiritual journey and life as a faithful Catholic. I trusted the Church and believed in it as a center for the delicate balance of my life. I've never been a typical Evangelical critic of the Catholic Church and still hold it as special and in high regard. Although, I left the Catholic Church during my college years, I still hold the many memories close to my heart and consider them essential aspects of my spiritual construct.

One of the clearest memories that I have lies in the simplicity of entering any Roman Catholic Church. Unlike many Evangelical and Protestant churches that are reminiscent of entering a concert hall just before the show starts, the Catholic worshiper is greeted with an overwhelming wave of silence. In an almost tangible manifestation, one feels the sense that they are being transformed from the brokenness of natural creation and ushered into the supernatural holiness of God's Kingdom. There is such a reverence for God and respect for His house, that you cannot help but feel the presence of His Spirit emanating from every corner of the richly and ornately decorated structures. The light gleaming from detailed stained glass, paints a visual interpretation of the Gospels that draws you into an almost real-time encounter with the ancient. You are captured and immersed in the holy.

No coffee or food enters the Catholic sanctuary. No idle talk or theological discussion continues from the outer walls. From a very early age, children are not ushered into Sunday School or nurseries, but taught that they are not only welcome, but a necessary part of the Church body. And because of this inclusion, children observe the same silence as their parents. Not from obedient fear, but more from a sense of awe. I still can remember the powerfully ominous aura of silence as we made our way to our regular spot in the church. We were in God's house, and although I fully understood and believed in the complete omnipresence of God, there was something special when we entered our family place of worship.

As I've made my journey from Catholicism through the detailed landscape of the Evangelical and Protestant Church, I've grown to realize that the differences that tend to divide us are not as great as we make them out to be. Most of us seek the same things from life and believe in the same essentials of the same God that all of us worship. Most of our discussions and even arguments can usually rest in the common faith in Christ and hope for the Kingdom He came to fulfill. Our divisions usually stem from the imperfections of man and not the complete perfection of God. Unity transforms. Division holds us captive and leaves us as we have always been.

But the one difference from my Catholic brothers and sisters that stands obvious to me each and every time I enter a Protestant Church lies in just that: entering the church. For I am reminded of something that seems to be missing. I'm reminded of something that captured my young heart as a child and still calls to me as a man. I'm reminded of how easy it is for the follower of Christ to place the emphasis on ourselves and allow it to deviate from God. I'm reminded that our world is loud but our spirits demand quiet. And even amidst the roar of chaos in our culture today, God's volume still rises above. But I am also reminded that our own voices can drown out the most thundering call of God.

Our church buildings are not magical. They hold no powerful energy that rushes through us as we enter the walls that contain our physical worship. I have felt God's presence more tangibly walking on a beach or standing on top of a mountain. But what stands unique is the physical attribution that we designate to our church buildings within our world. For as we spend the millions of dollars and carefully craft each doorway corridor, we make a claim that we make to no other structure: This is God's House. In a world of building man-made Kingdoms, the church is still the one building that we set aside for Him and only Him. Perhaps we would be more aware of that if we left the coffee in the entry way next to our egos. Perhaps we would hear God more clearly as He welcomes us into His house, if we turned our proverbial volumes down and allowed ourselves to be awed by His hospitality. Perhaps we would regain some of that sense of reverence that the Catholic Church still enjoys and find that we are not only in church to experience a good time, but to capture a taste of the holy as well.

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