Sunday, November 16, 2008

We shall never cease from exploration

...And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I went to church today, though I couldn't really say why. Aside from special occasions, it was my first time to attend a service in 8 years. I had felt an unaccountable impulse, as though something were calling to me, and this was my way of responding. The first two doors I tried were locked, but that appealed to my former debt collector instincts, and I finally got inside, just in time for the service.

The parish is Anglican Church of Kenya; Rite II at 11 a.m., 1662 BCP at 7:30. It is formal enough to be church, sociable enough to give meaning to the whole idea of convening in a group to begin with. The sermon, given by one of the laity, was preached with more sincerity than passion, but the oratorical style is not easy to achieve in this casual age, as each major presidential candidate recently discovered.

Visiting a church is like visiting a nude beach; you always wonder if you will meet someone you know. At the beach, you hope to avoid coworkers (unless, perhaps, the threat of embarrassment is your only means of compelling their cooperation on your project); at church, the impertinent fool who mishandled your customer complaint or the smarmy businessman who defrauded you. One of the members believed he had met me somewhere, though I couldn't remember him; we shared neither present nor previous employment, he had not taken one of my guided tours of the Mallory-Neely Mansion before it closed, and he doesn't compete in local trivia nights, so we were both left wondering. Finally, he concluded that I had a "standard face."

Why do people go to church? Because they actually believe what is professed in its creeds and hymns, or because they hope, by gathering with others, to convince themselves that they believe? (To be fair, Bacon made a similar observation about atheists: It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip, than in the heart of man, than by this; that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it, within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened, by the consent of others. Nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects.)

I once believed religious teaching quite sincerely, though no longer. I told the priest, a native of Kenya, of my unbelief, said I had come on impulse, and remarked that I was not sure I would be back. He was quite unassuming and chatted pleasantly while his wife offered me coffee and a brownie. I reminded him that this coming Saturday is the 45th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, as well as that of John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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