We live in church-going country, and all the homeschool groups here are church-based to some degree. We are not church people, and so have chosen the least-churchy of the groups to participate in. It’s worked out well enough. My daughter likes the classes, and no one has questioned our spiritual beliefs or practices, or tried to convert us, or made us feel unwelcome.
Still, I prefer to sit outside in the gazebo by the pond, rather than in one of the rooms made available to us inside: the fluorescent-lit lunchroom where toddlers play, or a classroom set aside for quiet study, where other moms pore over curriculum while their kids scribble away on worksheets. Outside, I can listen to the frogs in the pond, and offer up a few sun salutations in between paragraphs, and I have the gazebo all to myself. But yesterday it got chilly, and windy, and rainy, and it occurred to me that I might be more comfortable inside, if only I could find a quiet place to work. So I gathered my things and went into the church.
Let me just say that they don’t build churches like they used to, which is a terrible shame, even for those of us who are not church people. The churches of the past are truly soulful places, built with reverence out of soulful materials: stone and brick and wood. They are lit through tall windows, and stained glass; they contain and transform the elements of the natural world, they do not try to exclude them.
The church I wandered through yesterday was a steel-frame mega-structure wrapped in vinyl cladding, hospital-clean and cavernous and corporate, and about as soulful as the food court at the mall. I wandered down hallways marked by overhead signs: gymnasium this way, restrooms here, classrooms to the left, offices to the right. I passed the main worship center, which occupies the central section of the building. All three sets of doors were locked. I looked through the narrow windows in the doors. It was pitch dark in there. No natural light whatsoever. That wouldn’t do, even if it the doors hadn’t been locked.
I finally found a room called a chapel. It, too, was locked, but as it was on the periphery of the building, and had windows along one outside wall, I could see inside. This was a chapel? If not for the trio of narrow wooden crosses on the wall, it could have been a corporate board room. There was even a plastic bottle of water, half-consumed, sitting on the edge of a “media booth” designed for power point presentations. I mean, really.
I don’t mean to pick on this particular church, because the mega-church a mile away is just like it, as is the mega-church across town. I just can’t understand the sort of spirituality that would lead one to embrace this sort of house of worship, any more than I can understand the desire to eat at the mall food court.
I went back outside and sat beneath the gazebo, watching the drops of rain hit the surface of the pond and the trees swaying in the wind. Even in the grey, the world looked illuminated, while inside that church, the worship center would remain as dark as pitch until someone thought to turn on a light. And maybe even after.