DanceMeditations — By Bethany Rivera on August 5, 2012 at 7:35 am
My husband and I are in the process of looking for a new church, and frankly, it’s a peculiar experience. Perhaps out of pride, I must clarify that we aren’t looking for a different body of believers simply due to dissatisfaction nor for the sake of “church shopping.” Rather, I would say we’ve fallen into the search by way of circumstance.
We have far from a typical love story. A little over seven months ago, I returned home from a twenty-one month stint of serving in the third world. Thus, the entirety of our dating relationship consisted of distorted phone calls and fractured Skype conversations. If that wasn’t already adventurous enough, we leapt into our marriage merely sixteen days after my crash back into the United States.
Following our union and relocation to a different state, I found myself sitting in the pew of a church in which my husband was an intern. He had five months left of his internship, thus every Sunday I nestled beside him in a congregation in which I had little association. Truthfully, I was entirely content to remain invisible because my heart felt tired from my time abroad. Moreover, in all sincerity, I was scarcely motivated to become involved with a group of people whom I viewed as temporary residents in my life.
“This isn’t where we’d choose to go,” we both remarked on several occasions. Then we’d talk about how much longer it’d be until we could pick a church for ourselves. But now that we can, sometimes I wish someone would just tell us where to go again. Sometimes I wish someone would say we don’t have to go at all.
Traipsing to unknown places is tiring and visiting a new congregation often likens to a spectator sport. Come to the arena, watch the game, sit with the fans, and then leave with a lingering decision. Will we buy next week’s tickets, invest in a seasonal pass, or just pursue another team?
It’s awkward. Every week is slightly awkward, if not fully, and different churches do different things in order to ease the apparent discomfort attached to being a first-time guest. Some shake hands, some let us remain invisible, some ask us to stand, some have others introduce us, some place free gas and coffee cards in our hands. The one similar thread is the request for us to fill out a personal information card which reminds me of going to the doctor’s office: please list your name, age, address, and a dozen other things.
The church is the doctor’s office, and indeed, a disease brews within me. Rancid misperceptions and painful experiences with fellow believers injected poison in my veins, and each step into a new congregation fills my heart with optimism for a cure which exists but has simply yet to be discovered. “Can you help restore me? Will you do life beside me? Are you the real body of Christ?” my soul suspiciously questions.
I deem us feeble and broken, for my better half bears wounds inflicted by the church at large, and I timidly cover lesions as well. It remains hard to seek the remedy in the very confines of the establishment which shattered soul pieces within us and so many others. Yet each week, we traipse in quest of the great physician and a body of people who follow him, and this effort alone persuades me to believe that community is something we inherently need. It must be so, or else every wounded heart would have forsaken the faith community long ago.
Not too long ago, I stood in the library of a school nestled within the heart of a community in which individuals survive on less than two dollars a day. As I worked on a task, noise swiftly came to my ears and I cringed at the extravagance of the ear-defying bass while knowing instinctively what was happening. A vehicle mounted with exterior speakers was slowly creeping down the corridors of a dusty lane in order to promote a soundtrack for an independent musician.
I chuckled at how ridiculous this seemed. Americans have the radio, Kenyans have boom box marketing. Nonetheless, as I listened, I couldn’t resist the window framing this movement. I attempted to continue doing my work, but paused. “I want to see this,” I thought before stepping high over the hungry eyes of squatted readers. Certainly this wasn’t just a library, but a garden in which I gently trod over the flowers being grown from within an organization aiming to impact the children of the slums.
The window loomed high from the fifth floor of the building, and while glancing down, I realized this was Kenya at its finest hour. A crowd walked beside the noise-producing vehicle while more curiously emerged from shops and shanties to witness the extravaganza. Seconds passed before I noticed the swaying and stomping. Transformation came swiftly, for this wasn’t just a street and this wasn’t just a morning anymore. Alternatively, this had become a parade instigated by the swirl of melodies and subsequent movement of men, women, and children dancing down the street on the most ordinary Thursday.
I laughed, but despite the amusement, there lay the realization that this is what my culture lacks. Not only do we miss the music as well as the dance, but furthermore the spontaneity to join into it because our lives have very specific sequences. Each sequence is uninterruptable and isolated within spheres defined by family, work, or whatever else is deemed significant.
I’m sequenced too, believing such is the normal way to operate. I rationalize control of each minute and hour by claiming time effectiveness, work integrity, and sheer productivity. I’ve adhered to my waking, working, and sleeping schedule in the most unpredictable of nations as well as my own. Yet I didn’t want to cling to rigidness in the fragmented seconds of observing a movement which seemed . . . seemed what?
Somehow it seemed incredibly sacred and immensely holy. Unquestionably, I jealously longed for the mental freedom which wouldn’t hesitate at the opportunity to dance with my neighbors. For in our humanity, we were fundamentally created to experience this prolific dimension of community as Eden so demonstrated. Yet the truth remains, it’s quite simple and easy to create a life without it.
In my own land, this existence can consist of a home to a car to a cubicle to a grocery store that never has the same cashier twice back to home again. Surely, citizens of the first world can do life alone if willed, and sometimes, I do will. Yet it begs the question why we would ever want to. Hearing music from the top floor of a library enlightened both the pulse and vibrant existence of a Texas-sized nation as well as its societal embrace for genuine community. Neighbors lived, breathed, worked, worshipped, and danced together in the third world, and they could not and did not want to do it without one another.
I can do life without others, and God knows every Sunday morning I’d like nothing more than to stay in bed with my husband and pretend we were meant to do life alone. Yet ancient words from Genesis to the very end of Revelation say otherwise. The way my heart beats faster when I witness the ramifications of a genuine faith community says otherwise. Thus, we rise and wander into the next church building in search of something beyond the perimeters of the erected walls.
We’re all simply looking, I believe, for people to dance alongside of us.