I was raised in a church. Almost literally. My mom and dad were very active church go-ers who volunteered in their respective churches. Mother was a cradle Catholic and so were we. Daddy was a cradle Episcopalian who worshipped at the Cburch of the 18th Hole on Sunday mornings until we girls came along and he resumed his place in a pew for the Sabbath.
We did all the things that active church members do and maybe more than most might do. It was not unusual for us to do yardwork or clean the church on Saturday. We all sang in the choir, MA started playing the organ for Mass on the occasional Sunday while she was still in high school, and I got my first catechism class when I was 16.
Churchiness followed me into adulthood. My kids were raised in church where they too attended Sunday School and received the requisite sacraments. I kept up the volunteerism even when I ventured out of the Catholic Church and tried other religions.
So why did this past Sunday find me at Bob’s house where we prepared for a fish cook-out? That’s where I am most Sundays: home or at Bob’s, cleaning house or cutting glass, shopping or cooking. Rarely am I in a church.
That’s not any church’s fault, either. It’s totally me. I haven’t found God in a church. And that’s not because God isn’t there. I’ve been to many churches looking for God. I was raised Catholic, attended Pentecostal, and been an elder among the frozen chosen of the Presbyterian ranks.
I did Sunday school lesson plans with and without a glass of vodka resting on the Bible.
That sounds profane even to me. But I planned many lessons, wrote clown ministry plays, and children’s church sermons under the influence and later outside of the influence. I’m not sure which way I did a better job. Probably 50/50.
It was when I stepped away from church and began living AA’s 11th Step (“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”) that I began to form a relationship with God.
I hear people in AA say that “church is for people who want to stay out of Hell and AA is for people who’ve been there.” I don’t think that’s true. Alkies don’t have the concession on life’s pain. There are plenty of people in church who have been to Hell and back. They may not have my addiction, but they’ve been dealt rough blows by life.
In my case, the blows were often self-inflicted. Not all. I believe that God gives us free will and that God loves us no matter what our free will leads us to do or be. But from my experience life hurts like crazy when the free will of others collides with my well-being. And there are troubles which seem random and outside the boundaries of anyone’s will.
When Jack was 3, his dad and I were giving him a bath. He was the kind of little kid who loved mudding and he really needed that bath: there was dirt in every fold and crease of his little body. “Do you love me, Daddy?” he asked when John was scrubbing him. “I love you all the way down to the mud behind your ears and the crud between your toes,” John answered.
That’s the way God I’ve gotten to know in sobriety loves me.
The God who eluded me in churches and catechisms and the Bible sits with me when I meditate. That God doesn’t love me less because I’m cleaning house or more because I’m sitting in a pew. That God doesn’t love me more because I’m sober or less because I’m drunk. That God loves me all the way down to the crud between my toes.