Thursday, June 27, 2013

closing your church doors

In Pelham, a well-heeled community eight or ten miles from here, the 173-year-old United Church of Christ will close after the 10 a.m. service this Sunday, according to the local newspaper. With 36 active members, $17,445 was raised last year. The budget was $55,200.

As I might feel a sense of sympathy for anyone whose much-beloved has moved along, so I feel a wispy and not-entirely-clear sympathy for the church. Somewhere within, I whisper inadequately, "I'm so sorry." It's not that I ever attended church with any devotion or regularity (my parents were both devoted to the religion of the intellect), and it's not that the idiocies of religion couldn't inspire my wrath, but my upbringing recognized the presence of "church" in a wider sense: It was part of the air in which I moved; it was something that others loved ... and when something that is loved moves on ... well, I've felt that too and so I say inadequately, "I'm sorry," as if those words might somehow comfort and reassure and love.

I'm so sorry.

And, simultaneous with the sense of amorphous sorrow, there is also a sense of pleasure, the same sense of pleasure I get when I see my kids exhibiting signs of adulthood... little acts of kindness or expressions of understanding that indicate they have or are in the process of forsaking what was once so much beloved, so relied upon, so certain. It's not easy, perhaps, but, like it or not, everyone is destined to grow up ... even if being a 'grown-up' is never the done deal that mouth-merchants might pretend it were.

Adulthood ... there is not a goddamned thing anyone can do about it. Wriggle and squirm, praise or despair, encourage or discourage, posture or get real ... adulthood happens all by itself, for better or worse.

And all of this made me think of "surrender" in spiritual endeavor. To give up, to give away, to outfox, to disdain, to see through ... is there a spiritual persuasion that does not contain within its hallowed precincts some version of "surrender?"

It can be a pretty insistent drumbeat, whether from charlatan or pure spirit -- let go and let God; give up attachments; seek out enlightenment; exercise compassion; do unto others etc. Leave what once was so beloved behind. See the light.

But today, with the closure of the Pelham church in the offing, I don't think I agree with this concern about surrender. It's too childish, and adults, after all, are adults. To surrender something is to imbue it with the notion that it could somehow be surrendered ... that someone had it in the first place. Maybe it's a bit like the atheist who must first posit God in order to shoot God full of holes. To speak of or encourage surrender (I'm thinking of this on a personal level, not as some red-hot gospel delivered from the pulpit or self-help book) is like an exasperated parent who says to the child, "Oh, grow up!"

How could anyone grow up before they had grown up? Sure, they could fake it and sure they could find something they love in the churches of the mind -- something that might one day close its doors -- but maybe it would be more sensible to let things surrender themselves. Stop sweating and straining and trying to be an adult when, all by themselves, people do become adults.

Hold on tight-tight-tight or attempt to release ... doesn't it amount to the same thing -- giving substance and force and credibility to that which someone might long to evade or demolish?

With a faint heart, of course, it can be argued that some effort is imperative in a happy life, a peaceful life. You gotta bust your balls! And it's true ... why else would anyone build beloved churches in their minds or on their streets? Work your ass off -- it all seems so necessary and important and lord-I-do-love-it.

Don't things surrender themselves? Don't they move away without any assistance whatsoever? What possible use could spiritual endeavor be if it too did not close its doors ... not with a cranky slam or a silver-tongued click of delight ... just closed because, well, that's what it wanted to do.

If you cannot surrender spiritual life -- if you cannot watch it move away of its own accord -- what rich reality could it possibly have? No one could force themselves to be an adult. Adulthood happens without any problem at all. Why assure failure by seeking success?

Surrender or hold on tight ... same stuff, different day.

I think there are gentler and more useful approaches -- approaches that accord better with being a happy and peaceful adult.

But all this is just one kid talking to another, right?

Let's go out and play now!

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