This may not be the best crowd to hear this particular confession, but here goes: I’ve always hated Sundays. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that unusual. I’ve whiled away many Monday morning hours around the proverbial water cooler with tired colleagues, commiserating about the familiar dread that often descends on even the brightest Sunday afternoons.
Truth be told, my contempt for Sundays is largely unjustified, because they have never been cruel to me. The Sundays of my childhood are mostly pleasant memories, full of the standard fare of many families: church in the morning, an above-average family dinner, and plenty of napping. These activities were interspersed with long stretches of TV watching, usually with my Dad, trying my best to remember the infield fly rule or to follow the twisty plot of yet another BBC crime drama. Days like this are hardly the stuff of serious complaint. And yet, for much of my life, the colour of Sunday was a thick dark grey, dappled with big splotches of boring beige.
In hindsight, I suspect that attending church might have contributed to my feelings about Sundays. I was raised Roman Catholic, and although we went to church every Sunday, my parents were not overly religious. We were faithful, but not really the type of family that took Jesus home with us. He more or less stayed behind with the hymnals in our regular pew, although I did notice that his full name, complete with middle initial, often figured quite prominently in my Dad’s attempts to fix the rabbit ears on our living room television. I got a sense pretty early on that church was just one of a number things we did every week–the place we went before stopping at the deli for a loaf of light rye, kolbasa and dill pickles. The congregation of my childhood church was characteristically Roman Catholic–not outright unfriendly, but definitely light on hospitality and big on self-restraint. Not a lemon square in sight.
I think my early experience of church was part of the reason why, after a high school years of some fairly intense wrestling with angels under the tutelage of the formidable sisters of St. Joseph, I eventually found myself, like so many others, wandering out into the wilderness. Disillusioned and heartbroken by the corruption and harm caused by the church, I began to back away. I wandered in and out of a few faith communities in my twenties, growing more restless and angry with each exit. Eventually, I resolved to fill up my well with more secular pursuits.
I gave it my best shot. By the time I was forty, I had a decent career and a beautiful marriage. I had lived in both New York City and Vancouver, and my young children had introduced a kind of love in my life that still knocks me off my feet at least a few times a week. I had, by all accounts, arrived. Yet, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something, or someone, was patiently waiting for me just few miles down the road, gently beckoning for me to come in out of the rain, take off my wet socks, and stay awhile. After a few false starts, a handful of emotional dustups and some unanticipated detours, I eventually spotted a clearing. Together with my young family I began the long walk back towards something that looked remarkably like light. I kept walking until I found myself outside the doors of Transfiguration.
As much as the churchwarden in me would love to say otherwise, it wasn’t immediately love at first sight. We spent a few months lurking in the back pews, trying desperately to strike the perfect balance between friendliness and nonchalance. At some point, my awkward smiles turned into recognizable words at coffee hour, and I began to put names to faces. The rich liturgies and beautiful music began to make their way home with me, and sometimes, the words I heard in both the readings and sermons even spilled over into my work week. Even Mondays. I began to feel the faint stirrings of something important returning inside of me and although I didn’t know quite what it all meant, I knew it was very, very good.
Flash forward two years. My husband had just launched the Transfiguration book club, figuring that we both met the minimum qualifications for this particular ministry. I was already active in children’s ministry, and was toying with the prospect of taking on a more formal leadership role at the church. We had most certainly begun to find a home with these people, in this place. But inside, I was still very much grappling with my particular flavour of Sunday-fuelled anxiety. Sometimes, it was just a feeling of being unsure or uncertain, but at other times, the doubt roared so loudly in my head and heart that I was sure it was only a matter of time before someone figured out that I was merely showing up for the pleasant company and the free childcare. Even though everyone knew my name, I still felt like a visitor, afraid to take the tags off my fancy new Jesus clothes just in case I needed to them back before the return period expired. I was both inside and outside this strange and familiar club. I desperately wanted it to be the place that we would finally land for good, but at the same time, I kept wondering if I was the only one whose most profound encounters with Jesus usually involved biting into a slice of Joanne’s blueberry lemon bundt cake.
It was in this liminal and tender space that I first encountered Rachel Held Evans. I had followed her blog for awhile and had pre-ordered Searching for Sunday to read as a possible book club contender. From the moment I opened it, I felt, like so many others, that she had gone out and hired an editor for the express purpose of writing a letter directly to me. Her wise and funny words leapt out at me from every page, making it possible for me to finally name aloud my growing love for a broken yet beautiful and resilient church, and for a God that was slowly making all things new in my life, whether I liked it or not. Page by page, chapter by chapter, Rachel whispered steady and careful assurances to me that it was okay to show up each week unsure and not ready, craving lemon squares over bread and wine, and carrying, as she would describe it, my heavy doubt like a fifth member of my family. Rachel, along with a few other people who were starting to etch marks on my heart, was a part of small but faithful crew who were teaching me that it was possible, perhaps even essential, to live comfortably in the contradictions and complexities of my faith without needing to resolve them. It was Rachel who assured me that I could still be smart and funny and cynical and a warrior for justice (even if only in my head) and still love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all strength and with all my mind.
Rachel helped me find my way back to Sundays. She also helped me know with certainty that it was perfectly okay to have weeks where all I can manage to do is wrap a heavy grey blanket named Sunday around me and weep for this broken world and this broken church, and then curl up and watch a baseball game with my son (who, as it happens, never has any trouble remembering the infield fly rule). Rachel taught me that even when the game, and the weeping, goes into extra innings, God is always waiting for me, gently beckoning me in from the rain, telling me to take off my wet socks and stay awhile.
I’m giving thanks for Rachel today. Though we ever met, I miss her very much.
May God hold her family in his strong and gentle hands.