by Justin Teeuwen
After a great deal of soul-searching, I felt I had developed a great relationship between myself and who I understand God to be. What I yearned for, however was a connection with others – with whom could I share my relationship? This was over a year ago, and at the time, I was busy finishing school. Once I completed my degree however, I set about seeking an answer to this question. Here’s where I’m at so far:
When we are excited about a relationship with someone new, we want to talk about it: with our friends, family, strangers – anyone who would hear really. When we’re stressed, though some of us may be more private about it than others, we are eager to share the woes of our relationship with another human being. Come to think of it, when we’re confused, stressed, joyous, or feel that there is a barrier between ourselves and someone we are close to, we turn to someone to talk our problems through.
So I sat there, feeling that I had this growing, excellent relationship with the Divine but had noone with whom I felt I could share my thoughts. I turned to friends, or religious leaders, or books for answers to my questions, but felt that I had no consistent community whereby I could discuss God. Specifically, I felt that I had noone who shared my ideas and beliefs on a level enough that a free-flowing discussion could happen.
Specifically, I yearned to find a way to celebrate, grow in, develop, and share my faith. It turns out I have been contemplating this for years – even before I felt disconnected from Catholicism.
I was in a discussion with a few priests who live near where I am for the past few months, and one question kept coming to mind – “If I were to develop my own way of worship, my own method, what would it be?” I did not have an answer. Not even the formation of an answer – I didn’t know what I wanted. I just knew I wanted a connection.
In the style of one of my idols, Gandhi, I set about looking first at where I came from – Catholicism. It turns out, the purpose of church is exactly to accomplish all of the goals I had been missing. So why then, was church not working for me?
This discussion grew to include other youths, who were also interested in a connection. We set about investigating the construction of weekly mass celebrations, what we could change, what we couldn’t – essentially, what made church, Church? The answers we found were surprising. A great deal of flexibility existed within the construction of the ritual. The rituals that existed were designed to serve very specific purposes also.
Last night was our test-run. A Teaching Mass for the congregation was delivered – the first of its kind. Our goals were simple: teach people what mass is about, and try to develop a stronger community (ie. Develop stronger connections between the members of the church). I can happily say this was accomplished, at least for me, personally. The process of learning about church was enlightening, but the most remarkable things happened for me during the mass.
I was sitting next to some fellow church-goers, and during the sermon, we were asked to discuss a few questions. Immediately I could sense the barriers, the ones that exist in those invisible prison cells we construct while at church, melting away as we discussed our thoughts on the readings of the bible. The most profound moment happened at the time for us to pray together as a congregation. We were asked to turn to the person next to us, and if we felt comfortable to lay our hand on the other person, and to ask them to pray for us.
I turned to my neighbour, and I was stunned by the deep, personal prayer this stranger had asked me to pray. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts as this transpired. I was shocked because I was not used to having someone completely random share something so personal with me. What’s more, it felt genuine. In that moment, I wanted to reach out and share my strength and support, and I in turn shared my own prayer. The bond between us was very tangible, even tractable. At that moment, I knew that this was the kind of connection I wanted to have and share with others, that this was the point of coming together.
Almost all religious traditions exercise some form of common faith-worship, and many ideologically based societies that are not religious also gather to further understand their chosen beliefs. I, and we, are no different.
We spend our lives yearning for a connection – with each other, with ourselves, and with the Divine. I believe that is why we all search for meaning in our lives, once survival fades as a primary concern. I am on my way to developing this connection, by challenging the process that I have been given, by working with those around me, and maybe most importantly, by reaching out to the people near me and asking, “Can you help me? Can I help you?”
Until next time.