To Be Separate or Not: That Is the Question

Post Author: Jessica Harren

NailpolishGod and the world.  Sometimes, I think we think of them as two different things.  Sometimes we can think of faith, and the presence of God, as something that happens inside a brick building for an hour (or maybe two) on a Sunday morning.  I know this because even people who long for God in their lives but don’t know how to find Her often say to me, “Say hi to God for me.”  Even people who are lifelong members of church will sometimes say this to me if they have to miss a service.

But God is not separate from the world.  While holy and sacred time is important, the sacred is not reserved for inside a church building.  I long for a church that integrates faith with all of my life – in the ways that I think and behave and talk.  I long for a community that empowers me not to spend more time inside a church building, but to seek and know the real presence of the living God everywhere.

Recently, at the Young Clergy Women’s Conference, I had a powerful experience of the sacred.  I knew and experienced Holy Time.  I was overwhelmed.  I cried and felt goosebumps.  I stilled and was able to experience what Celtic spirituality calls a “thin place.” A place and time where God and world are not as separate as we think they are at other times.

Where was this, you might be wondering?  It was in a nail salon.  I know, I was surprised, too.  It happened quite by accident.  The conference organizers, in an attempt to save printing costs, had e-mailed the bulletins for the worship services.  So, when about twenty-two of us got stuck during soul-tending time at the nail salon, we worshipped at the same time as the YCWs who were able to meet in the chapel.  Most of us had our smart phones and tablets and were able to easily access the bulletins and read the full liturgy for the service.

We worshipped while getting manicures and pedicures.  We sang our Taizé songs, and we prayed our prayers.  And I wept for knowing in a new and powerful way that God and the world are not separate.  God moments – holy moments – can happen at any time and in any place: by accident, by a decision to save money, and by feeling that our bodies and souls and community are all connected during this sacred time and place.

I can’t speak to the experience of the other women who were there.  I can only speak to the thin place I found.  I found a place where community cared for one another.  I found a place where I could worship God while someone else was caring for my body.  I found a place where everything felt totally integrated for our worship service.

As with many holy moments, I did not know until later why this event had impacted me the way that it did.  I had finally found a place where God and the world were not separate, and care for my body was not separate from care for my soul.  God created me a whole-being; during that blissful worship service, I knew that was true.

In relating this story later to my Mom, she replied, “That’s the kind of church I need.”  My sister replied the same way.  I don’t think that we want people to have to pay for manicures and pedicures to come to worship, and I don’t think we want to commercialize and materialize worship that way on a regular basis.  I do think that there is a deep need in our world for our experience of God to be outside the walls of the church building and to take seriously our creation as whole-beings.  God and the world are, after all, not separate.  That is the answer to the question.  So I am left wondering: how do we, as Christians, help the world know that answer?  I came to know it in a very powerful way in a specific situation that happened by the grace of the Spirit, and would love to share that with others.

Rev.  Jessica Harren is on the Editorial Board of the Young Clergy Women project and solo pastor of Capron Lutheran Church in Capron, IL.  Many of her afternoons in the backyard and playroom with her toddler are spent wondering how the institution of the church will have to change and become truly relevant to a post-modern world.

Image by: Nasreen Fynewever
Used with permission
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