As a little kid I always thought that church was cool. I liked the choir at my hometown Episcopal church, and going up to get wafers and juice. But the Scripture reading, prayers and sermons always seemed really boring. As I got older, I began to not feel God in church. Then I was forced to go to confirmation classes once a week as a teenager, for an entire year. The weird priest made those classes excruciatingly boring and tedious -- so bad that the day after my confirmation, I announced I was an atheist, and I never went to church again. I unconfirmed myself immediately, and lost my Christianity in a big way. I just thought being a Christian was irrelevant.
Before my return to graduate school (to Union Theological Seminary in New York) a decade ago, I went 30-something years attending various eastern meditation groups. I'd do my yoga, chant mantras and ruminate on the nothingness of existence. The deeper I got, the closer to myself I became, the emptier I felt. Yet I loved God, although the God-concept didn't fit with my yogic practices. The Jesus Christ concept really didn't fit, and I spent decades thinking the "Jesus freaks" were real losers, or even brain-washed. I couldn't stand the proselytizing and guilt-tripping that Christianity seemed to offer. I told people, "I don't need a mediator between me and God."
Then, in seminary, taking classes on monasticism and ancient Christianity, I began to strongly feel the presence of God. I got inspired to visit monasteries and very ancient churches, first in the U.S., then researching and filming hermits in Egypt, then in Greece and Eastern Europe, and finally in Russia. I met hermits and monks, and they let me film their descriptions of the inner Christian life. They took me to their monastery churches. My studies in Christian mysticism and ancient texts grew deeper and deeper. I discovered a prayer, the Jesus Prayer, or Kyrie Eleison -- "Lord have mercy," or "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me." (Some add "a sinner" at the end.) I loved ancient church so much that I'm making a movie and writing a book about them, coming early next year (Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is a not-for-profit feature film, the result of my studies and renewed love-affair with Jesus Christ and church).
Now, 10 years later, I've returned to Christianity and go to church as often as possible. Here are my top ten reasons why I think church is cool. Please keep in mind each one of these points is enough to write a book about, or many volumes, as they have been in play for thousands of years:
- The Eucharist, or Holy Communion. The bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, God in human form, is a physical uniting with God inside. After all the prayers, chants and setting aside the self, I feel a tangible connection, a bond made between Heaven and Earth, when partaking of the Eucharist.
Please post a comment and tell us all about your positive experiences returning to church.
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