I’m afraid I hear too many times this notion — “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I would like to tell you about my religious weekend . . .
On Friday night my church, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, hosted a Coptic Catholic wedding. The priest and I co-officiated the ceremony. The liturgy was beautiful. Most of it sung by the priest and his five deacons. They put crowns upon the bride and groom to symbolize the mythic marriage of Christ and Church. They were anointed with oil. They shared the Eucharist. Almost everyone at the wedding was Egyptian, and conversations naturally moved toward the current state of affairs in Egypt. People were heartbroken that so many churches had been attacked and burned last week in Egypt. The whole evening was a high moment of religious expression and ritual.
On Saturday afternoon I conducted a memorial service for a woman, Debra Dobb, who passed away a few weeks ago. She was young. Younger than I. Her husband was heartbroken. As was Debra’s mother. Most who gathered for the service were not church people, but I could see that the service, the readings, the music, the liturgy, the architecture of our great sanctuary touched them. The whole service was deeply spiritual, but it was also religious, rooted and grounded in the tradition of the church. It was the kind of service that was personal, but it was also a reminder that there is something beyond the personal, which of course is the very realm of religion.
On Sunday morning we had our typical service at First Church. As a congregation we explored the meaning and use of the Bible, and part of what I tried to do in the sermon was to provide an alternative to a narrow, literalistic view of the Bible, a way of reading scripture that honors its ancient nature, but also its contemporary possibility. And then we hosted for our Coffee Fellowship and the Gay Freedom Band of Los Angeles played for us. They were terrific! These are volunteers who play because they love it. Because they want to share their music. But to see them at our church, playing for us during our fellowship time, was a reminder that the institution of the church can indeed open up and change and make room for all God’s children. It was spiritual, but it was also religion at its best.
And then Sunday afternoon I officiated a wedding for two Korean families. They speak a different language than mine. Come from a different culture than mine. But love is love, and love transcends culture and language. The Bible was read in their language. Prayers were offered. Korean customs were integrated into the service. And again, I could tell that people were enthralled with our beautiful church. It was a spiritual moment, to be sure, but it was also a deeply religious moment.
I love our church everyday. But I especially loved First Congregational Church this past weekend. I moved to Los Angeles five years ago this month, and I really had one hope — that somehow this great cathedral could come to life again, and that it could be a place of spiritual vitality and meaning, and that somehow it could become a house of prayer of all God’s children. We still have many miles to go before we sleep. But this past weekend . . . well . . . it caused me to Take a Breath. It was a good weekend. And it was a reminder that this divide between spiritual and religious is artificial, and so completely unnecessary.