I read a quote recently attributed to public radio personality Garrison Keillor that went something like this: "If you can't go to church and, for at least a moment, be given transcendence; if you can't go to church and pass briefly from this life into the next; then I can't see why anyone should go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church a changed person."
I wonder, sometimes, how many of us feel that way.
I wonder if some folks might feel that moment of transcendence in a boat on the lake, or at a movie house when justice ultimately triumphs over evil, or at a basketball arena when your team pulls ahead at the buzzer, or at a football stadium as a field goal goes through the uprights just as regulation time expires.
It may have more to do with expectation than you might think.
When we purchase a theater ticket we expect to be drawn into the up-and-down drama of a featured presentation; we expect excitement at a sporting event; we expect to find a mix of recreation and relaxation on the lake.
But it seems that we have somehow been conditioned to attend worship services without any expectations, to take what is offered without seeking those moments of transcendence we all need, to sit through the sermon without going where it is intended to take you. Or just maybe we don't get connected enough to be touched by what the Spirit is doing during church services.
Maybe some people see church as too personal, too focused on how we live out our lives in the light of the simple truth of the gospel.
When I watch a movie, for example, I get to look into the lives of others for a couple of hours. I get to think about how I would have done things differently from what the characters did, or learn ways to handle different life situations. In fact, all avenues of art let us look at others' lives. Maybe we should learn from them.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said of art and literature, "both hold the key to a miracle: to overcome man's ruinous habit of learning only from his own experience, so that the experience of others passes him by without profit. Making up for man's scant time on earth, art transmits between men the entire accumulated load of another being's life experiences with all its hardships, colors, and juices. It recreates -- lifelike -- the experience of other men, so that we can assimilate it as our own."
And it should be that simple. Even outside of art -- in real life -- we should be able to learn from the lives of others; we should look at the experiences of others and assimilate that into our own experience.
When we're in church, we're in real life. We're not looking at someone else's life, we're looking at our own lives with all their failures and falsehoods and frailties. We look at the bright expectations of the gospel in contrast to the dim light of our own experience.
And we miss those moments of transcendence, those moments when we pass briefly from this life into the next, those brief moments of transcendence that cause us to come out of church changed for the better.