If you have young children at CSMSG, you probably know me. If not, you likely don't. My name is Gale Patterson and in normal times you will find me most Sundays in the back-left quadrant of the sanctuary during the 9:15 am service with my husband, Greg, and sundry school-aged sons. We like it back there with the Glass, Stokes, and Simanowitz families along with Jeffrey and Graciano who are good sports about everyone's kids. I miss it these days, and I can't wait to get back there.
My faith has been a bit dodgy lately. I look at the world around me wondering how much longer it can mosey about atop these stilts it's been walking on for the past six months or so. It seems beyond the measure of reason and practical likelihood that we can all manage to wake up one more time and continue to pull ourselves and our families and friends through the morass of a global pandemic, economic collapse, and soul-crushing racial injustice. And I suppose the way we do it is that sometimes we are the ones doing the pulling, but sometimes we are the ones being pulled. Pulled by a phone call from a good friend; pulled by the hug of a young child; pulled by a spouse who still has it in their heart to love us after all these months of intense togetherness. And within each of those things, being pulled by God.
I've been reading Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies for the first time this summer and have been struck by her aptitude at finding God inside the small crevices of her life. It's not a strong suit of mine. As a full-time working parent of three school-aged boys my normal life often feels something like a dizzy bat race at a minor league baseball game. I'm not great at pausing in those moments and saying, "Ah, God, I see you've joined us for bedtime tuck-ins this evening! Please do snuggle in." I am a person who needs church to find God and it wasn't until the spring of 2012 that a sermon of Fr. Archie's helped me figure out with lightning-bolt clarity why.
He talked about the Holy Spirit (a slippery subject even for the most confident of Christians). The Holy Spirit helps us talk to God, he said. And the Holy Spirit is present in the liturgy and the liturgy is our path. The liturgy is the set of footprints that shows us where Christians have been before. It tells us where to go and what to do. Get on the train of the liturgy, he said, and it will carry you there. And suddenly I got it: This is why I come to church. Sometimes I can't get to God on my own. I need the liturgy to carry me. I need the church, the service, and the liturgy to show me the path and usher me down it. I need the structure, the guideposts, the emergency footpath lighting that show me where to go if the power of my faith fails. I don't want to be far from God, but without the liturgy that's where I seem to end up.
We've attended the outdoor service a couple of times this summer and it has been a balm. And I've gotten better at looking up and realizing that God is perched around my house on bookshelves and windowsills if I'll take the time to notice. But I still miss the full liturgy. I feel like I've gone on a long journey away from home and I'm starting to miss the feeling of my own spiritual bed. Anne Lamott writes in her book that the people in her church say "Traveling Mercies" to each other when one of them goes away for a while. It means: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound. And I suppose that's what I wish for myself, and for all of you. This is a difficult journey to love, but God is with us, and sometime soon we will come home safe and sound.