I’ve just returned from the Middle East, where 17 of us traveled in Israel/Palestine and Jordan on an educational and spiritual pilgrimage. We met with Jewish folks and Christians. We met with Palestinians and Israelis. We saw historical sites (those Herods had impressive architectural vision!)
We visited traditional sites of Biblical stories, from Jericho to the tomb of David through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection, and was created and is governed by the Orthodox churches. We also visited the Garden Tomb, a preserved garden created by Protestants.
“Find your moment,” was the oft-repeated statement of Deeb, our guide in Israel, a well-educated Greek Orthodox man. He knew that for some pilgrims, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a place of deep connection. It is, for him, every time he visits. But for us westerners, the iconography and shrines put us off, rather than drew us near, even as we watched pilgrims kiss the traditional site of the anointment of Jesus’ body for burial, and the stone that they understand to have sat at the foot of the cross. For our group, it was the Garden Tomb where we found connection to the events of long ago, surrounded by trees and fresh air, peering into an empty grave with a large stone rolled away.
“Find your moment.” For some of us, it was the Church of the Annunciation in Bethlehem. For another, the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem. For others, Masada – the site of fortitude as the Jewish folks held off the Roman oppressors as long as possible and made tragic choices of life and death, freedom and slavery.
“Find your moment.” We giggled at first when Deeb would say this to us, but as time went on, we did find our moments. He knew that he could not produce them for us, but we needed to get ourselves out of the way and open ourselves to the place and to God in order for our spirits to receive the gifts that were there. He knew that not every place would connect to all of us, but that all of us, if we were open, would find the place that did better connect us to God.
So what does that have to do with you? As a Protestant worship planner, there is always some pressure (internal or external) to produce “moments” for people. Deeb reminded me that I can’t do that. All I, and the worship team, can do is to offer worship that is as faithful and authentic as we can. Other than that, it is out of our hands. It is up to the worshipper to “find their moment.” Not every sermon will reach every person. Not every person will like every piece of music. But if people approach worship with an openness to God, and get ourselves out of the way, I believe that God will meet us there.
It might be in the sermon, it might be in the music. It also might be in the silence. Or perhaps in a greeting from a fellow worshipper. It might be an “aha” moment of enlightenment, or maybe an “ahhhh” moment of peace.
It’s not about “going to church.” It’s about opening yourself to the Spirit of the Holy One, finding your moment of grace and peace in the company of fellow pilgrims.