One of my favorite things about Sunday afternoons is the opportunity to listen to Garrison Keillor's radio program "A Prairie Home Companion" as I drive home from church. Unlike previous vicars of Wakefield, I live some distance, which has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that it gives me the opportunity to take time out, breathe, and listen to music and interesting programs. Being a Minnesota native, my favorite radio show is Keillor's. He has a wonderful ability to connect me with my "homeland," even when I am so far from there.
This past Sunday, July 18, Keillor's show was a patchwork quilt of previous clips--something that's to be expect in the mid-summer, I suppose. As I was driving, he shared a beautiful piece on "Churchgoing" by the late John Updike. Keillor first read this on air just after Updike died in January 2009. I didn't hear it then, but I am glad I did this week. Here it is:
There was a time when I wondered why more people did
not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what
could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a
venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean
for us one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison
and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths
worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts? To listen, or not
listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to
console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts,
hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of
divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the
mind cannot remember or believe them; to witness the
windows donated by departed patrons and the altar flowers
arranged by withdrawn hands and the whole considered
spectacle lustrous beneath its patina of inheritance; to pay, for
all this, no more than we are moved to give-surely in all
democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most
available democratic experience. We vote less than once a
year. Only in church and at the polls are we actually given our
supposed value, the soul-unit of one, with its noumenal
arithmetic of equality: one equals one."
--from "Churchgoing," from Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories, 1962, pp 249-250
I imagine that this is why a lot of us go to church. We go because there we are connected with something that just doesn't make logical sense, and yet, is very real. In church we are filled with that "divine joy" Updike writes about. The stained glass, the flowers and resplendent vestments, the old words and ancient creeds, they all connect us with something deeper and more profound than we find in our ordinary day to day lives. Or at least that's true for me. And maybe it's true for you as well. The church has its faults, there's no question about that. But it is also special and holy and sacred. It warms the heart. It fills us with divine joy. Most especially, it gives us life.
If you care to hear Garrison Keillor read this passage in his own distinctive voice, you can do so here.