The following was sent to me by a friend who recently left the Church of Scientology. It’s a reminder that there are places where one can find beauty, grace and peace. And it has nothing to do with how many square feet of space you’ve bought or renovated.
I had an interesting experience in a church yesterday. My husband and I were in a little neighboring town. We’d been walking around an arts festival for about 3 hours, and by about 2:00 we were tired and hungry and were looking for a place to sit down for a few minutes on our trek back to the car. We walked by an old church, and the doors were open and a pipe-organ was being played, so of course we went in. Even though it was Saturday, the church had been opened to the public and a few tired festival-goers were sitting in random pews. A middle-aged guy in jeans was playing an old pipe organ. So we went in and sat down in one of the old wooden pews. I noticed the wooden floor in front of our pew was actually worn from the feet of people walking in and out, and shifting their feet around while seated during services. The floor and the pews looked original to the building, so that would have made them over 80 years old. That’s a lot of Sunday services, funerals, christenings and weddings.
This church was an old Spanish Revival style; white, hand-plastered walls, wide-open, gable ceiling with dark-stained, heavy timbers and beams from which hung big, wrought-metal chandeliers. The window wells for the stained glass windows were a foot deep into the white walls. At the front of the church was a huge, rosette window with a depiction of some religious figures. The glass had been stained in brilliant blues and soft greens, the robe of the central figure in cardinal red and touches of gold. We just sat there and breathed in the beautiful organ music, the light through the windows and the smells of the old wood pews. It was calm and beautiful and my husband and I both gratefully expanded into the space.
After a few minutes, the man playing the organ stopped and got up from his seat. He spoke to a woman near the altar who was just sitting down in front of a harp, then proceed to where we sat, and stopped. He smiled and chatted with us a few minutes, and then went about his business.
The woman started playing the harp. Ode to Joy, followed by Greensleeves. Sitting in the pew only 10 or so feet from her, I started to cry. I couldn’t suppress it. I couldn’t stop. I just sat there and cried, quietly.
After a couple of minutes of this, I turned to my husband and said, “He didn’t try to sell us a book,” and we both laughed. It was so ridiculous.
What I had experienced so profoundly at that moment was the realization of loss. Sitting here in this old church, I was suddenly aware that my own “church” had removed from the experience of religion every beautiful thing I’d ever loved about churches.
I had never wanted to be a member of a church, I have just always loved churches. I love the smells, the sounds, the light, the peace. Old churches are spiritual places. They are completely and utterly different in that way from any church of Scientology, old or new, that I have ever experienced. Yet, despite never having wanted to join a religion, after 30 years I found myself a member of some perversion of one. And nowhere in that experience was there ever any of the things that I loved about churches. None.
So sitting in the old church, no longer feeling any part of my old “religion,” and knowing that would never have to set foot in another one of its commercial, high-pressure, nerve-wracking and spiritually bereft organizations, I just let it go.
I just sat there, listening as the harpist gave me her personal expression of her spirit, sitting in the light of an artist’s stained glass creation inside a beautifully designed old structure that had beencared for and cherished by the people of the community for 80 years. And was left in peace to think or feel whatever “the spirit” moved me to think or feel.
And when we decided to leave, and got up and started to walk to the door, the organ player smiled and waved goodbye.