It’s been two years since I quit the table—
and the pew;
since I’ve pinched the broken piece of bread between my fingers
and dipped it in the crimson cup.
The body and blood of Jesus, given for me . . .
and promptly declined.
At first, it wasn’t on purpose. (There was a global pandemic.)
Then it was.
In the “before times” I never questioned them: The regular rhythms (Dare I say grind?) rolled in and out like the tide, culminating with Sunday in the sanctuary and its sacred feast.
But Covid-19 stirred the waters.
It wasn’t like Hokusai’s Great Wave, with fishing boats tossed to and fro by their white-capped captors. No. It loomed on the horizon like a distant tsunami. The water rose, but we didn’t feel its full fury until it smashed into our shores.
As with most tragedies, it cleared the clutter—and gave us all the space to question . . . everything.
Why, we demanded, are we ___________? (here, still together, doing what we do?)
We watched these queries upend families, friendships, purpose, even faith.
Nowhere was this existential crisis more apparent to me than in the church. So, I took my leave from the Bride—like lovers sometimes must—in hopes that some space might bring me closer to the truth. You could call it a sabbatical of sorts: I spent Sunday mornings on a paddle board instead of in a pew.
“Why go back?” called my friend across a lake so pristine I lamented each disruptive plunge of our paddles into its peace, “when we have this?”
I dug deep into my theological toolkit to answer her and pulled out nothing. NOTHING. Just a handful of my own questions about the Bride that I could never before bring myself to ask:
Does she deserve to wear the white that veils her stains—
with centuries of blood on hands still grasping at stones for casting;
with her blind eyes turned, time and again, from injustice;
her deaf ears plugged from sounds of suffering;
her lips open in judgment;
and her mind, closed like the bolted lock of a church door?
Why must she stand next to pursuers of power instead of against them?
Why, when she tore off her mask in a global pandemic, was her “right” to breathe freely in front of her
neighbors more important than loving them?
I saw my name scribbled on a place card at her banquet table with an empty chair—
but I was too nauseated to eat.
“I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror” – Taylor Swift
Earlier this year, I dipped my toe back into church waters.
Maybe it was because my son asked me to go.
Maybe it was too chilly for the lake that day.
Or maybe it was Carol’s words to me—the kind that live rent-free in your brain and are impervious to eviction:
“I’ve decided to live towards a solution,” she said as we sat on her deck dissecting church like it was an autopsy, “instead of being part of the problem.”
So one May morning, I gripped my son’s hand instead of my paddle, and headed to the brick-and-mortar building we’d vacated for over 24 months. I breathed the platitudes under my breath in a premature response to the inquisitions that would surely follow me through the doors:
“Hi there! Where have you been?”
My heart raced.
I bet we can slink back to the car before we’re noticed.
Too late. Jessica already had us in her crosshairs. Flinging steel doors open wide, she met my cold hesitancy with the warmest of embraces.
No, “Where have you been?”
Just embrace. The kind that draws a prodigal home.
Then I remembered. It wasn’t the first time:
I remembered when Jo held me in her arms as I wept in my hospital bed. I can’t recall what she said or how she prayed in the wake of my lost pregnancy. All I know is that she pulled me close.
I remembered how Anne skirted the social protocols of a “typical” church picnic—the one where I felt like a teenager outside the “in” crowd. She found me on the beach and asked, simply, if we could be friends.
And how Carol brought a separate serving of the bread and the cup to me that September morning, so her friend with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder could celebrate without fear. She remembered me so I could remember Him.
Why go back, you ask?
It wasn’t that my break from the Bride satisfied my many objections. Her fraught—even despicable story—is set in history’s stone, and there is no rewriting it. (Though we’ve tried.)
The time and space away illuminated, instead, that so is mine.
Philosopher-poet, Taylor Swift (like it or not, she is both), says it best—in maybe her most raw and transparent song to date:
I’m the problem it’s me.” (“Anti-Hero“)
So fixed was I on the church’s flaws, that I failed to recognize my role in them. I wasn’t “living towards a solution,” like Carol was. I was part of the problem.
Ask me if I’ve quit the church, and I will reply with a resounding “YES!” I’ve ghosted the one I’d created in my own image, according to my own expectations: The one that’s never made a wrong move in its 2,000-year tenure, the one that meets all of my needs all of the time, and never diverges from my
The Bride, it’s true, will never deserve the white she wears. But neither will I.
So, I’ll sit in solidarity with her at the table
where Jo, Anne, Carol—
and Jesus—have saved a place for me.
There’s one here for you, too.