I ask the question often: “Are you part of any congregation?” It happens when I’m standing in a hospital room containing some sort of crisis. It happens when someone has indicated that I could pray.
It’s a triage kind of question, wanting to know what style of prayer is most appropriate. But when people say, “not really. I know I should, but,,,” and then provide an explanation about moving or health or conflict, I realize that they are feeling obligation. And I diffuse that a bit.
That understanding of congregation and church attendance tells me that we are a long way from loveliness.
“How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.”
That’s how Psalm 84 starts, with a picture of home, of welcome, of comfort, of nesting. (I choose that word because the next image is of sparrows and swallows building nests in the rafters above the altar of God.)
I’m mindful that when we think of the courts of the Lord, we are thinking more of judgment courts than royal courts, of sternness more than laughter, of dominance more than delight. And that may explain why so many are so uncomfortable with church gatherings.
But deep down we long for the lovely. We ache for a place where we are home enough to rest our hearts and souls and bodies.
Somehow, for the psalmist, that place is the presence of God. Not a building, exactly, necessarily, but the presence. Not an obligation but an opportunity.
The courts of the King, who knows our fears and follies, who forgives and befriends. And apparently knows an amazing decorator.
Thanks to Nancy for a word.