I had a curious sensation this morning, driving to work.
Because of road maintenance projects, my usual exit was closed, and I had to get off the highway at the next exit, one which I used to take years ago when it was first opened. This exit was supposed to be a ‘short cut,’ and it did cut out the segment of the main road that runs through the local business district, but after using it for a few weeks, I went back to using the main exit. There’s just something more ‘human’ about the business district, maybe it’s being able to see ‘signs of life’ there on my way to work, sort of prepping me to have to deal with ‘the world.’ Going the other way, it’s just barren highway walls, or views of the sullenly same suburban clonosphere. ‘Little boxes on the hillside.’
So I got off at the ‘new’ exit, the one just past the big ol’ barn. Wow! The ol’ barn got a new metal roof! The walls of the barn are still a weathered, unpainted brown, but the roof, well, it’s brand spankin’ new. The ramp curves rather sharply to meet the new parkway which then cuts through territory only recently robbed from cultivation and citified. I hadn’t been this way in many months, probably even in a year. I think I stopped using it winter before last, because in the darkness and mist of early morning and late afternoon here in the north, it’s hard for me to see my way.
After rounding the bend, there was what I was expecting to see, the row of identical fog gray two-storey blockhouses behind a low protecting wall paralleling the parkway. A few young trees were starting to be visible through the gangways between the houses. It’s a rather new subdivision. For years, it was a huge, unfenced fallow field coming to the old road. At one corner of the field, at the intersection, had been a large billboard advertising this field as the site of a future church—I never paid attention what kind—with an architect’s rendition of what that new building would look like. Finally, after several years, signs of construction appeared, and in due course the building. What surprised me at the time was that a whole subdivision of residences also sprang up. Those are the houses I saw from the road this morning.
Then I saw it! At the end of the row of drab houses, barren land again appeared, and in the distance a sprawling two-storey building with long, sloping eaves, looking a little like a cross between a hotel and a Pacific Northwest lodge at a campground. And in front of it, in the field between it and me, a big billboard sign with the words ‘Church of Christ.’
“What’s that?” I mumbled to myself. “I wonder what they do in there? Then I noticed, I had just had a ‘curious sensation.’
Somewhere in the back of my mind and even in my emotions, there’s an underlying notion that ‘the church of Christ’ is people. I know I’ve said this and continue to say and write this whenever explaining what the Church is. I know that I know it theoretically, and I accept this idea as true. Yet I’ve never had this experience before… Coming suddenly upon a building that I know from experience is a Christian institution, a ‘church,’ yet being taken aback, being startled, by seeing it called ‘Church of Christ.’ I could feel deeply that I was already ‘in the Church’ and that the Church was present all around me in its fullness and strength. It felt as though I were on the edge of an immense, living organism almost floating through and intersecting with this world, and that I was looking out of it at the world, as we passed through it. And when we passed this thing, this building with the billboard in front, ‘Church of Christ,’ I was startled, almost like a savage is startled to see himself reflected in a pool of water, knowing that the reflection is somehow both himself and not himself. The sensation is very hard to put into words.
All of this takes a whole paragraph to describe, but it happened in an instant, and wordlessly, even thoughtlessly. Only a second later, as I continued driving past, did my rational mind pick up the refrain, “I wonder what they do in there?” and begin realising that I had just witnessed my own spirit being splintered between heaven and earth in bewilderment. The sensation gradually faded, and in five minutes I was bolting out of my car to hop into another driver’s seat at my desk, where I started my day by telling this tale.
This morning I was praying in my car as I drove to work, and so my mind was not in its usual state of worrying about earthly affairs. “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life creating Triad, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.”
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
John 4:24 NIV