Recently I went to see a film celebrating the work and life of dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. One of the male dancers in her company spoke about how no matter what he was trying to be or do, Bausch always saw past the charade—right to the heart of his identity, right to helping him see and find himself.
Film director Wim Wenders echoed this in his comments about Bausch when he said: “The most profound achievement in interacting with people is to bring out the best in everyone, make it shine and make it visible.”
Have you ever known someone like that? There’s nothing like standing in the presence or under the gaze of someone who really sees and loves you. It’s as if walls remove, light shines, and the real “you” steps forward. Mary Baker Eddy puts it so beautifully this way: “Goodness reveals another scene and another self seemingly rolled up in shades
. . . ” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 1).
There may be no greater gift that we can give than to really “see” one another, to look with love, interest, generosity, tenderness, and appreciation. To be the kind of individual Isaiah speaks of: “a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land” (Isaiah 32:2, New International Version).
Isn’t this what church should feel like? Church should make us feel that we’re sheltered in a sanctuary of love, so that we know that any baggage or dust we’ve brought in will be gently lifted and washed away.
I can’t say that I’ve always felt this way about going to church. Sometimes it hasn’t felt like a safe place at all. Individual struggles, disagreements, disappointments, and misunderstandings have seemed to heighten and intensify in the very spaces I have most sought solace.
Eddy speaks of the “ever-agitated but healthful waters of truth” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 254). Church experience—a collective search and commitment to life, rooted in spiritual progress and healing—is a laboratory ripe for spiritual growth and transformation. Because of this, we may mistake the “ever-agitated” stirrings, rumblings, and upheavals among church members as signs of distress, rather than evidence of something sweet, sound, and pure being uncovered and revealed.
Church should make us feel that we're sheltered in a sanctuary of love, so that we know that any baggage or dust we've brought in will be gently lifted and washed away.
Eugene Peterson speaks of this in his book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians: “Every time I move to a new community, I find a church close by and join it—committing myself to worship and work with that company of God’s people. I’ve never been anything other than disappointed: every one turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamorous secularizers. Every once in a while a shift of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminates these companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: word of God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer, persevering obedience. I see ‘Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces.’ ”
Within each one of us lies a great, generous, magnificent expression of God that’s just waiting to be discovered. This is the stuff of church: buried treasure in our midst that is awakened at the slightest touch of love. It is activated with the gentlest of glances. We feel it when we seek it. It springs forth at even a hint of good intention from another. The desire to nurture and be nurtured uncovers great stores of strength, gratitude, forbearance, and forgiveness.
Today, the Holy Spirit moves amongst us: It is the very presence that prompts us to love, to seek love, to live honestly and generously. That’s how love works. That’s why Church, the temple of the Holy Ghost within each one of us—the indefatigable, indivisible “superstructure of Truth; the shrine of Love” (Science and Health, p. 595)—is right now supporting, sheltering, and drenching all of us everywhere in unquenchable love and light. It knows no borders, no boundaries, no bounds. It is universal, impartial, undeniable.
No disappointments, disillusionment, human foibles or horrors can shroud, delay, or destroy the evidence and presence of God. In the darkest and most broken of places, the Christ prompts us to discover that the spirituality we’re really made of doesn’t break. Holiness, integrity, grace—the very things we had perhaps overlooked or dismissed—actually thrive when all else fails.
True community—true Church—begins with a gentle surrender, the simplest of gestures, the glimpses that we have of uncomplicated innocence. It is cultivated with the willingness to seek and nurture spiritual qualities in ourselves and others, to listen past the noise and surface appearances, in order to look with keen eye and tender heart to see the children of God’s creating.
As we do this, we feel the oneness of all creation, including those in our church, singing, embracing, exalting, and exclaiming God’s gentle truth: “See, I have never left you. . . . . My sheltered, cherished, sheltering presence.”
Joni Overton-Jung is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.