So I’ve been wrestling with the question of whether or not my husband and I—empty nested after our 15-year-old left for boarding school this past fall—needed to get ourselves back to church. Not whether we “should” (because I’m done shoulding on myself), but whether sitting in a pew on Sunday would strengthen or hamper our connection to the divine and, not insignificantly, to each other.
I’ve been asking and listening, while still proceeding as if the task of finding the answer was mine alone . I do this a lot. I ask for divine guidance, and then I grab the reins and gallop away, my hair streaming behind me, God’s answer floating, barely audible, on the wind whipping around me.
But sometimes, the wind dies down, making space for the whisper and for mystical moments—by which I simply mean direct, unmediated encounters with God. To clarify, these are never orchestrated by me. They usually happen in spite of me and always involve God showing up when I least expect it. All I do is notice and acquiesce.
That is the space I found myself in this past weekend. My plan? Attend a meeting of a group I belong to that was being held at the church we’ve attended for a decade but which we haven’t been to with any regularity in several years. The meeting was not related to church or religion, and, as it turns out, it was actually scheduled for the following weekend. Yep. I had my dates wrong, so I showed up, wandering the familiar halls, looking at my kids’ confirmation group photos near the youth area, wondering why the janitor and I seemed to be the only two people in the entire building on this Sunday afternoon.
Once I realized my error, I meandered back toward the exit. But before I reached it, I saw a flickering out of the corner of my eye. In the deserted chapel—the small, cozy worship space I had always favored over the cavernous sanctuary—one candle was burning in a bank of tea lights at the front near the altar. And I knew—just knew—that it was burning for me.
Feeling a bit like a trespasser, but too intrigued to stop myself, I cracked open the door and ducked inside. Kicking off my slides and creeping toward the altar, I entertained a brief reverie about how, exactly, this one candle came to be lit hours after the last service ended. And whether I should blow it out in the name of fire safety.
This kind of practical thinking, friends, is what causes us to miss the mystical moments that come our way.
Fire codes be damned, I approached the bank of candles and brazenly lit the tea light next to the one already burning. In that act, I linked my intention to the greater mystery. I ceased wondering how and why simply joined my light with the divine one burning for no good reason.
Except maybe the good reason was me.
That was the point of this whole detour. And the point of me retelling it to you. Sometimes God diverts us for the express purpose of helping us remember that there is more to this world than the practical, the material and the logical.
Sometimes the answers to the questions we ask of God come wrapped up in these detours. Don’t miss them because they weren’t in your roadmap for the day.
Also, God’s answers are sometimes more of a knowing than an actual directive. After spending a half an hour contemplating my candles, I sensed that there was actually no right or wrong answer to the question I’d been asking. God doesn’t have a preference as to what pew I sit in or which church it’s located within. Just that I sit and listen regularly.
Amen. Namaste. Shalom. Salam.