I can get a little testy about King David and his love of worship. Maybe it's envy, maybe it's guilt--I don't know. I've been a church-goer for most of my 65 years, twice every Sunday in fact; but I'll gladly admit that I've often had to get up for it, to push myself, to go despite a ton of druthers.
"I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord,'" saith Psalm 122, a song of David. But then, I told myself, King David went only once a year, for heaven's sake.
Last night was one of those times when I had to push myself, to listen to the still small voice of should, to run off to church, to worship, because I knew being there would beat the alternative guilt of not having gone. Last night going to church was "an exercise in spiritual discipline"--to use the language of contemporary piety. Sometimes in my dark soul, church-going simply relieves guilt. I know that's bad. I don't need a lecture--I came from the factory with a humming Calvinist conscience.
By the time I left the yard, I was late. The bank clock in town said two minutes to, and I was five minutes away--and Orange City doesn't operate on Indian time. When I pulled up, I figured I'd be last and just grab a seat somewhere in the back where no one would see me anyway--don't make yourself a distraction, that kind of thing.
On the way in, I met a couple, also late, a couple we'd just been talking about at dinner, when my daughter and father-in-law talked about a terrible accident not all that far from where we live, a fatal accident that had taken the life of a local man, a husband, and a father to four sons.
"We were just talking about you," I told that couple as we hustled up to the front door of church, the organ already playing. "Were you related to the guy who was killed last week?"
"Brother," he said. That's all, and then he stopped and looked at me with the emptied eyes of someone who's not so much lost as disoriented. He's a good man, a strong man, square-shouldered, broad chested--and right there on the sidewalk outside of church he held out his hand for me to shake, but also, I think, simply to hold. And why wouldn't he?--his brother left last week early Tuesday morning in the twinkling of an eye. He needed to be touched, needed to be held--we all do, because that brother of his had been there, like always, and then simply gone, just like that. Gone. And he wouldn't be back.
We ended up in the same pew, the three of us, and having them beside me changed everything about worship because it was impossible not to hear what I heard, to sing what I sang, to experience what I experienced through the eyes and ears and mind and heart of a man who'd just that week lost a brother.
When, a year ago, my wife and I left the community where we'd lived for 40 years, we experienced--and still do--a sweet liberation from the constraints of expectation communities efficiently generate. For the last twelve months, we've felt a species of freedom we haven't for many years. Even though I've lived in them for most of my life, I'm aware as anyone of how a small town can be a hall of mirrors.
But I was reminded last night that freedom can put the blessings of community at risk. Last night, it was good for me to go up to the House of Lord and listen with a broken heart. There simply are things you miss when you don't hold hands.
This morning I'll ask a blessing for them and the family, but I'm also thankful for sitting beside them last night in church.