The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 87: the Ninth and Final Week of Contemplative Summer – Contemplating in Church
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I took this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ve modeled a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. I pray it’s been helpful for you in your own practice, and I’ll share some of the fruit of my summer in next week’s episode, but this week, we’re wrapping things up by contemplating God in church, and it seems to have been a cool gift of the Holy Spirit that this last episode in the contemplation series really does tie it all together for us.
Contemplating God in church is kind of a no-brainer, I know. It seems to be in part what churches were made for. Though it’s true that Jesus travelled from place to place to teach, and the early church did not require buildings either, over time houses of worship and the many things found within them became touchstones to help people see, commune, understand, and worship God.
From grand and ornate cathedrals built so often by generations of the poor to simple and rustic chapels, church is where many people go to seek God. In some weird way, I believe worship spaces hold the history of what has happened there, and that’s why often churches will have a distinct feeling or spirit to them that we can discern when we enter them. And there is so much to contemplate in a church, truly; the stained-glass windows that were created to tell the story of God to people who could not read it, the stations of the cross which were designed to help us embody the steps of Jesus on his last day, that red candle that signifies the presence of the Eucharist in the tabernacle, the holy water or baptismal font, statues and other art that introduce us to the communion of the saints, all of this stuff created to help you and I commune with a God who we cannot see.
In this series, we’ve contemplated God using story, nature, art, music, our bodies, centering prayer, tactile prayer, and scripture, and I realized, much to my surprise while contemplating in my local chapel this week, that all of those things could be found in church. But I’m mindful that there’s other stuff in church, too, friend, the painful history that can sometimes impede our contemplation. Church hurt, exclusion, clericalism, abuse, some churchy people whose actions and messages just do not reflect Jesus – these can all take a real toll, and the dwindling number of people attending church on a regular basis these days is testament to that. There are many people for whom the pain is so profound that they have not stepped foot in a church in years, let alone contemplate God in one. I know lots of people like this, and I bet you do, too.
And, friend, I totally get it.
In part, it’s why I thought I’d choose to contemplate in a different space this week than where I ended up – maybe the church in Boston that I love to visit but which is kind of a hike to get to, or the local college chapel in which I frequently feel the presence of God, or the church we visited last week on one of our off-weeks of music ministry – that one had a refreshing homily and kind people who engaged us during and after mass, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe who I love, and a ceiling covered with navy blue and stars that kept me looking up.
But no, for a few reasons on that particular day, it was my home chapel I visited, and though I was alone in there, the memories poured forth of the many times God has sung through me as I led worship, of the times that brought tears to my eyes inexplicably, of the people who God used to speak directly to me with their words of encouragement or help, of the dear friends who used to worship all together each week, how we raised our kids in that space together, how my kids used to sit in the very first pew where we could see them, how I’ve felt the presence of my mom and friends who art in heaven there, how I pray for them still in the midst of the eucharistic prayers at every mass I attend.
As I sat in a pew and was impacted by the art and story and music and scripture and literal decades of history, prayer, sacraments and community, but also, if I’m honest, the pain and struggle and disappointment, even frustration which I have also felt in this space – as I contemplated it all and allowed the Holy Spirit to wash over me, this is what I heard God say:
Nothing is wasted. Every single thing that we hear or take in or see, each interaction, every prayer or line of scripture or sacrament, every moment we give to God in contemplation – it is in us, friend, still working, in God’s way and economy which is so wonderfully lopsided, so garishly unfair and generous. One day I believe we’ll understand how God somehow supernaturally multiplied the purposeful time and attention we little humans gave him in prayer and contemplation, like loaves and fish that feed and sustain us over the span of our lives that can be so hard sometimes. When it comes to contemplation, friend, God knows we need it.
While I sat in the chapel, I was reminded of this scripture which I’ll read here for you. It’s an invitation to you and to me from God to continue building our relationship through contemplation. In it, you’ll hear the promise of what can happen in our lives when we do, and the blessed assurance that not a single moment we spend with him will have been wasted but which will certainly produce the good fruit which he has intended for us all along, in love. Friend, this is from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 55.
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Oh friend, I hope you heard God speaking directly to you in that passage. I know I did. And that was a bit of my experience with contemplating God in church this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own in whichever holy space you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing this community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related to some of the things I touched on in this week’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. God, I pray that you’ll lead us to wholesome and holy spaces in which to contemplate you this week and that as you do, that we will experience you anew in a way that you have made in love just for us.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
Contemplative Summer comes to a close this week with an episode on contemplating in church. As you choose a holy space in which contemplate this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Article: Heavenly Illumination: The Science and Magic of Stained Glass, from The Guardian
2. Article: Rose Windows of Notre Dame
3. History of Stations of the Cross, from Catholic Straight Answers
4. Journal prompts (while sitting in a church):
God, where are you directing my gaze in this church? What does this element have to say to me today?
What is my history within this space and in other churches? Can I gather in the goodness and light memories but also the pain? How does my history here impact how I see God and my life of faith in this moment?
God, I am here. What would you say to me today?
5. Song: In This Place, Trevor Thomson, Victoria Thomson