I stared at the cobwebs in the corner of the church nursery this morning and wondered how many years of dust bunnies and bugs were burrowed inside of them. The nursery was in the basement of the church, three levels down, closer to the underworld than the sun. Many church nurseries are located in such distant places, far away from the adult activities which are usually located in much more lavish spaces. This is a dead give away of how the church really feels about children, regardless of what they say. This Lutheran church had two services happening in two lavish spaces at the same time! And here we were, the visitors, stuck in the nursery with cobwebs and three kids–two who would much prefer to run rather than sit in church. My husband flopped his dressed up self into a rocking chair and said, “It was HARD to get here. And now I get to sit in the nursery and watch my own kids? I could do that at home, in my underwear!” I picked up a board book titled, Anger, Understanding Your Feelings and offered to read to him.
We watched a part of the service on the small screen TV hung in the corner with glitchy sound. A handful of kids came up for the children’s message which involved the pastor making exaggerated movements with his hands, talking louder than usual, and making the parents laugh.
I wondered why so often children are used as adult props. Tucked away. Seen and not heard. Or not seen at all. Why children’s spirituality is still relegated to chucking marshmallows at Goliath or making some corn-syrupy snack that will send them home ready to bounce off the walls all afternoon.
Despairing, we left. And my husband got to watch the kids in his PJ’s at home (while I took a nap! YES!)
Tonight I went to a different sort of holy gathering. I went to a yoga studio and practiced my first guided meditation. There were no bulletins handed out. Just blankets and pillows. The studio was on the third floor of an old building with windows that looked out over the city of Fargo. The sun was just beginning to set and the sheer white curtains softened the light. We sat for the first five minutes and just breathed. I listened to my heart beat slow down. I let go of tension in my eyebrows and shoulders. Then the teacher said, “Meditating may make your family, friends and coworkers upset with you. Here you will learn to listen with your heart. The heart doesn’t always go with the flow. It doesn’t promote someone else’s agenda or business or family value. Meditation is hard. So many have used spirituality to escape their lives. But we are going back into our lives and into our bodies. Meditation is going into the places of pain so that our life can be released back into the world.” I wanted to shout, “Amen!”
I listened to our teacher talk about the wisdom of the body. “The body knows,” he said. “And sometimes it’s easier not to know the things that the body knows.” I thought of my children. I thought of the freedom they have in their bodies. How the little ones love to run around naked with wide smiles on their faces. How they have not yet learned shame or much pain in their bodies yet. My eldest is on the cusp of puberty and growing more clumsy, like I did. I didn’t know how to live in a grown up body. Some days I still don’t. I thought of how us adults have learned to wear masks. Sometimes we forget that we are even wearing them. Sometimes we become the mask. Sometimes we have no idea what we really feel. Sometimes we rather be told what to do so we don’t have to deal with the unknown. And then I realized that this is why children’s spirituality (and my own) isn’t thriving in the church. My hunch is that the church is generally afraid of the body’s wisdom (we go for the traditional). It is afraid of sexuality (many are still arguing over whether or not to welcome LGBTQ, an easy target for our shadows). We keep the embodied children far away (where moth and dust does destroy.)
In meditation I practiced scanning my body and allowing my breath to enter all the nooks and crannies. I found pain in my stomach and lots of guilt for beginning to paving my own spiritual path outside of the church institution and my family’s values. I sat with it for longer than I am usually allowed to confess my sins in the liturgy. I prayed. I breathed. I became aware of it, acknowledged it and it dissipated. It was an in the flesh transformation.
After meditation no one stayed for coffee. (They probably all went home and juiced kale.) The whole experience was very private. And wonderful. And missing the community and relationships and children that are vital for spirituality too. What I really want is this: I want it all. I want a spiritual community that values the body, children, women, LGBTQ, men, the old and the young and everything in between. I had a seminary professor who used to say that the church today is Gnostic. I never got it until recently. Gnostics thought the body was bad. They were more interested in the ideas and their secret wisdom. And even after all the anathematizing and killing and Nicene Creeding, we still forget how important the body is. People are going to yoga on Sunday mornings (or staying home to sleep or watch their kids in their underwear) because something essential is missing from church. Something embodied. It’s going to be hard to guilt us back into church. Our lives are filled with guilt, anxiety and stress. What we really need is a sip of living water, a taste of eternal (and gluten free) bread.
So how do we live in an embodied spiritual community that truly values being transformed by love, where our spirits are nurtured and our flesh is healed in sacred spaces cleared of cobwebs? This is a question I will continue to pursue both in and outside of the church. I hope you will explore it with me too. I’d love to hear your thoughts.