I left regular church attendance a year ago.
At the time, it seemed like such a big decision. Regular church attendance was ingrained in me more deeply than any other habit. If it’s Sunday, I’m in church. It never even felt difficult to keep that habit. It was just….what was done.
In the 9 years since leaving the cult, I never stopped regular church attendance. I kept going. I kept searching. I kept believing that God was found in meetings. In the odd dissonance of how evangelicals interpret Scripture, I fully believed that God was not in a building made with hands–but He wanted me to go to a man-made building every Sunday anyway.
There’s a good deal of scary mythology that makes the rounds when you stop attending church. People tell stories of the weird fates that befall them after leaving church. They get in a freak car accident. Somebody dies. They lose a job. They start drinking heavily.
It’s the same sort of mythology that’s applied to Bible reading. My grandfather used to say that the Bible would keep you from sin or sin would keep you from the Bible. It was always either/or. If you quit reading your Bible, some disaster was bound to happen. If you were struggling with anything from a headache to mild depression, the first question you were asked was: “Are you reading your Bible regularly?”
It’s an ironic thing, really. Christians eschew superstition, but they can be pretty superstitious about what happens after you stop regular Bible reading and regular church attendance.
The only disaster that has befallen me in this past year is that I’ve become more human.
Less fearful. More loving.
Less worried about what anyone at church thinks of me. When you attend church every Sunday, there’s this keeping up of appearances that goes on. You know, you have to dress up. Look “Christian” and all that.
I’ve become almost reckless about my reputation. I could care less what people say about me. I’ve stopped worrying if everyone likes me.
I stopped going to church and started sleeping better at night. I exercised more. I made soup.
And it’s odd because when you’re outside of church for awhile and then you go back for some major holiday (like, say Christmas Eve), you have this very strange feeling–an almost out-of-body experience. Being there–in church–you remember the Old You that used to sit there and you’re shocked to discover how much the Present You is different.
For one thing, I forgot how loooooooong sermons are. Damn. Seriously? 45 minutes of preaching? What?! Who listens to 45 minutes of preaching every Sunday?
And then I remembered that back in the day, I used to listen to upwards of 3-4 hours of preaching every Sunday.
I have to wonder if there’s a correlation between fearfulness and regular church attendance. I mean, I’ve grown in love and peace so much in this past year and I have to say: not hearing fear-inducing sermons has gotta be part of that, no?
On the other hand, I’ve been going to Mass more often. Which–I know this sounds contradictory–but it doesn’t feel like “going to church.” Maybe it’s because Mass is just so different. More Scripture reading, more reflection, more contemplation–less preaching. And above all, the Eucharist.
I’ve also discovered different ways of praying. I’ve found great solace and comfort in saying the Rosary, in silent contemplation, in prayerful breathing exercises.
If anything, this past year has shown me all the ways I can find God outside the walls of a church. The love of God is boundless. And by that I mean–the love of God is so big that nothing can bind it.
Not even the walls of a church. And it is this–this boundless, everlasting, all-compassionate love of God–that has made me more human.