Sooooo, I went to church today, not for the first time, but it was a first as to why I went: I went to listen to a sermon. Of course I had been in churches before, for many different reasons, as a wedding guest, attending a funeral, admiring art, listening to an organ concert, never a sermon. As you probably know by now, I am a non believer, although I do not like to define myself as such, it clarifies my position. Brought up in a non-believing-staying-away-from-churches family, I can say in retrospect however, we were surrounded by religion. A large part of my childhood years were spent in the catholic south of the Netherlands and both elementary and secondary schools I attended were of catholic denomination, albeit very ‘modern’ and non too outspoken, it was the seventies and eighties, society was moving away from obvious manifestations of faith.
Moreover, we live in a Judeo-Christian society, so much so, certain things have become as it were invisible. As I mentioned in a previous post, the sight of a church spire means home, on a very basic level, even though I hardly entered a church as a child. This is one of the reasons I wanted to read the bible in it’s entirety, as objectively as possible. What it represents and how it has influenced the world I live in, is sort of invisible and therefore unknowable, almost.
It started as an idea in the back of my mind many years ago in Art school and there it remained. Much of the art I studied in art history classes was of a religious nature. For centuries art was religious, if not felt within the artist, at least it would be produced in order to invoke upon the beholder a sense of piousness and religious feelings. My parents had given me a bible as a birthday present, at my request, but I had not managed to start reading. For twenty years the bible waited patiently on the bookshelf. A few years ago I started in earnest and plodded along on my own and after having read the Pentateuch* I put the book down and realized I was not going to finish it on my own. Enter my friends from the book reading circle: once I had suggested to them that we might read the bible together, after some giggling and mild protests, they all joined in. Better still, one of them introduced a female minister to our group and all of a sudden we had a scholar in our midst, and so the birth of our bible-class came about.
We have been reading for almost a year now and have had six sessions to date. During our last session, the minister mentioned a rather interesting retired minister would be giving a sermon this Sunday at ‘her’ church (a church in the Protestant Freethinking=vrijzinnigen corner, there are almost as many varieties on the Protestant side as there are believers, it would seem). His name is Klaas Hendrikse and he is (in)famous in our country for the publication of a manifest titled ‘believing in a god who doesn’t exist’ and a book ‘god doesn’t exist and Jesus is his son’ he is known as the atheist minister; well that is right up my street and I was intrigued and decided now was the time to actually go and listen to a proper sermon. I was disappointed. It wasn’t so much a sermon, but then I had no real comparison, as it was a lecture. He spoke of the differences between different leanings of 'vrijzinnige Protestanten' especially what it didn't mean to belong to the specific variaton of freethinking Protestantism this particular congration adhered to....it was a bit beyond me. Afterwards I spoke to one of the regular church goers and she confirmed my thoughts, indeed this morning’s sermon had not been very inspired nor inspiring. After a morning like this, I would not have guessed people would want to turn to religion for comfort or the sharing of experiences one has no words for. Precisely those aspects which I have only recently come to accept as valid reasons for people wanting to (continue to) believe. However, after having been convinced by others his sermons are worthwhile, I am sufficiently interested to go and listen in the future, as he frequently preaches here......All the more poignant as he himself comes from a non-religious background.
Attending church on a Sunday morning is a bit like having been to a meditation class, something I am familiar with as I used to attend meditation classes on a regular basis for quite a while. One returns home and has become more quiet, literally, the need to talk has faded. This doesn’t last in my case, but still it’s nice to know I can shut up for a few hours.
I will leave you with the sound of wind and trees