Tuesday, March 29, 2016


It is in this season of rebirth that church attendances spike across the country as the timidly church-going crowd makes a traditional pilgrimage—largely from supposed obligation—from the safety of an artificially sacrosanct modern routine, to the pews, to celebrate the foundational event of the Christian religion. Inevitably, as suddenly as this seasonal devotion emerged, it retreats into a criticized abyss. Regulars among the pews come to associate a negative connotation with the “Easter crowd,” and discussions emerge over the importance of weekly church attendance in the lifestyle of the faithful. I can’t help but think something is missing.

A storm parts over the Grayson Highlands. Photo by Matt Reilly
    My own church attendance is irregular. I don’t go every week, and I’ve skipped a few Christmas services in recent years, but I don’t feel I’ve missed anything. I don’t feel a distance from God.

    After a childhood of returning weekly to the church building I grew up in, around the time that some of my teenage friends began disappearing from the aisles as they began to make decisions about their beliefs for themselves, I underwent a similar discovery. I began to abandon the building and the sermons for a more natural approach—for hymns sung by songbirds and flowing water, salvation offered in a sunrise.

    Though I perhaps knew all along, and did what was most pleasing to my being, I didn’t tackle the question of the reason for my faith until rather recently. It seems—at least it did, to me—an irrelevant question when you’re content, but one that could be enriching to have the answer to worked out, nevertheless.   

    The people of the world, throughout time, have had faith and developed belief systems because of an innate desire to explain the world around them and answer the questions for which there are no empirical answers. I am no different.

    Religions, factions, and denominations emerge to surround different cultures and serve as a standard of beliefs for the faithful public. But the act of faith is personal, and speaks to us in the most personal of ways.

    For me, that way is through nature and through words. I am a romantic person, yes. I can be emotional. But if you've ever defied metaphorical gravity or felt a warmness in your soul sparked by the sight of a voluminous freestone river barreling through a maple gorge ablaze by the dying ember of autumn, or teared up to the tune of a flawless line, a timeless, nostalgic anecdote filled to the brim with old world tradition and wisdom, you may have a similar kind of faith as I.

    These are the things that I find to be beautiful—supernaturally, unbelievably beautiful. For these things I can perceive no possibility of their coming about by chance, by some stupendous, spontaneous cosmic happening, even if succeeded by millions of years of evolution, fine-tuning, and settling.

    In the beauty of these things, I hear God’s words, as they spill from the mountains and the lowlands and the trickling hollows, and I think them as I hear them. As I think these things, I conclude that I am of them, and as such, don’t find loneliness, but purpose and inspiration.

    As somewhat of a rambler, I recognize these words as the same that speak, and have spoken, to those of a similar faith as I—the same words that have inspired great works and thoughts, all just meager attempts to transcribe the words that come. In this I recognize that when my last track has been pressed and my last word written, I will go home to the mountains, the lowlands, and the trickling hollows. These words will remain, while my thoughts become their words; and their words, the thoughts of my gone-home contemporaries.

    All of this from a mere question of faith, a thoughtful departure from the cultural, comfortable, church-going experience? Through the countless personal church services I’ve enjoyed in my time, I’ve encountered many an evening, and every sunset asks the same question: “How have you lived?” I hope you can smile in answering.

    Church is not a building. It’s an experience—taking a break from the chaotic flux of everyday life and surrendering control of your heart, mind, and soul to something bigger than ourselves. I find it in nature.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

I read your blog about "Church." It shows a great respect for the wonders of God's creation. I, too, often feel close to God when I am alone in the out-doors -- in fact, I often feel much closer to God when I am alone than when I am with other people. Nonetheless, as I read the Bible, I am convinced that God's intention is that we also seek Him in the company of others who are seeking Him. Of course, this doesn't have to occur in a special building, called a church building. But the church is the gathering of God's children-- those who hope in Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, your ideas don't seem to include room eternity/ heaven/ hell/ the Last Judgment.

Sincerely, Matt