Last night I sat in an old rattan chair in our church basement, feeling chilly and gazing up at the asbestos tiles on the ceiling. The basement is an unprepossesing space. It’s not scary–there aren’t dark corners or long cobwebs. But it’s largely unfinished, painted concrete and cinderblock, humbly furnished, and just not a place we show off to visitors. Fortunately, we don’t have to love it; many among us ardently pine for more space for classes and meetings so the basement could be reserved for people–our youth?–who might “appreciate its charms.” In the meantime, it gets the job done.
I was there for the final session of a small group series on Reproductive Justice, and I came to the basement, and to the assembled group, with something between equanimity and resignation. This was the only class offered this spring, and for a variety of reasons, I was not willing to sign on with my whole heart. I’m interested in the subject (as I have discussed–here, for example, and here; thoughtful guest response here); I wish we would talk more about this sort of thing, and that we’d do it in a way that acknowledges that there are a variety of viewpoints even among devoted Unitarians. But I knew this class had an agenda from the outset, and it didn’t necessarily square with my own. And I didn’t realize this consciously until now, but from the time I put my name down on the sign up sheet until the night of our last session, I had one foot out the door.
And yet, I returned. And returned. And . . . returned. I came to check it out, and I stayed to say my piece, and I came back in hopes of learning more, until finally I attended because that’s what I did on Wednesday nights. The group was well-facilitated, its members open and enthusiastic, and the material relevant and interesting. That said, I did sometimes feel uncomfortable. And I sat in silence with the things that bother me– it’s just not time right now. But I learned a lot, and though I thought of myself as “dropping in,” I was there. (And perhaps in this, a lesson: I don’t always have to depend on my confused heart to take me where I need to go, because I have my feet to bring me. My heart can just follow along for the ride . . . and something might touch it anyway.)
And then last night in the cool basement, staring upward as chairs scraped and feet thundered above me, something happened. One moment I was wishing I had a quilt or afghan to wrap myself in–I am something of a critic by nature, of the organization-reforming, process-refining sort; I was quickly developing a plan for a blanket drive to make our chilly spaces more hospitable for winter group meetings–and the next, I felt blanketed in love and joy.
What happened? Our group was checking in, and I was listening . . . but without truly listening. (I have some work to do around mental multi-tasking, or its opposite, which I believe is simply called presence). Then one participant shared her gratitude for the simple comfort of being able to walk into our church building, home of our little community, and make herself a cup of tea amid the bustle of the Wednesday night kitchen. We had what she needed. She knew where to find it, and felt invited to do so. She felt welcomed in the space, even given the busy-ness of those around her. She found a place of ease and respite from the demands of the day, and settled with joy and peace into our company.
Wow. Wow. Sometimes the little things are the big things. In my joy at seeing the improvement in an evening that this sort of gift can create–a simple thing, but a big one for quality of life–I smiled. Then I settled in with joy and peace of my own, and sent a quick mental blessing around the circle to my fellow congregants, to the cheery light of the lamp in the corner, to the work that we had done together that day, and up to those faded acoustical tiles on the ceiling. I snuggled into my chair, blanketed in the abundance of a community of here and now, and engaged in the work of our final evening together.
And later, much later, and then again this morning, I thought about the ways that this community provides sustenance for my body as well as nourishment for my soul. I think about the big things a lot, but I tend to gloss over the abundance–and the importance–of the little ones. So, thinking about the last few weeks, I made a list:
My church community has given me . . .
* a cheering section
* a hot meal cooked with love
* encouragement to grow
* a hug, a smile, a knowing wink
* listening–casual listening, deep listening, and the sort of listening (risky, across the lines of our own hearts) that for me mediates God as closely as anything I’ve ever found
* opportunities to be a listener myself, and to learn to do it better
* space to do things that scare me–and as much of a safety net as you can have while still doing something that’s real
* an abundance of grace in my mistakes (see above)
* smiles, hugs, and genuine love for my children, even when they are acting exactly like themselves
* and yes, a hot beverage on a cold day. or many such beverages–this is probably my most-used feature of our kitchen. Friends, welcome to the Minstry of Tea.
What a place, right? What an unearned bounty . . . and what a difference it makes to my days and to my life. It makes the sort of difference, in fact, that encourages me to tromp downstairs week after week, and open myself to things I don’t necessarily want to hear. The accumulation of tiny loves and mundane comforts may be exactly what makes it feel safe to follow my feet even when my heart isn’t quite ready.
When we talk about finding a church home, connecting around spirituality is probably what we think of first . . . but is that ultimately why we decide to stay? Maybe the decision to join a congregation has something to do with experiencing comfort–and perhaps it’s not just the church part we should focus on, then, when we talk about growth, but on how we offer those who find us a piece of home. A home that is not the one we make ourselves and return to in the evenings, but the one from our dreams.
A warm glow.
A space at the table, prepared for you.
A beloved community, making beautiful a humble basement.
You are welcome here. Come in, and grow. But first: make yourself at home.