Saturday Night Worship: A Benediction

It’s been a rough week. Nate was TDY for a few days, and in a manifestation of the curse that descends on every military family at some point during TDYs, the kids came down with a stomach bug. And then Nate came home and I got it and then Nate got it, and the whole week I’ve felt like I’ve been in a black hole of vomit and abandoned routines and a biohazardous house, and having the adult understanding (with a scream haunting the matter-of-fact thought) that nobody is coming to rescue me, we will have to claw out of the hole by ourselves.

I felt physically better today, and the house was miraculously picked up enough to finally run our robot-vac. Tonight after the kids were in bed and Nate and I had had a few minutes on the couch to talk about logistics of moving to our new house next week (!!), I settled myself down with my earbuds and my big paint-by-number canvas that was Nate’s Christmas present to me and which I call one of my keeping-myself-sane projects. There’s something incredibly restorative in using my hands to create something beautiful, and after a bad week it feels almost like an act of defiance. “Life, you sucked this week, but here’s something pretty, so there!”


I listened to a few songs by my current favorite band, The Arcadian Wild, and unexpectedly found myself in a puddle of tears after their song, “Benediction.” (I’ll link to it, and if you can, listen to it while you read the lyrics, because you don’t want to miss a single one.)

Throughout my whole life I have had moments where I have encountered something that called forth a yearning so deep it seems to come from my very DNA– a response that is physical, emotional, and spiritual all at once. It might come from the beauty of a landscape spread out before me, a poignant scene in a story I am reading or watching, a moment of courage or truth or grace in a relationship, a sense of hope or peace coming unexpectedly in the midst of chaos. Or as tonight, a song that somehow spoke to my essential self. I can never predict what will call forth the feeling; I have listened to “A Benediction” before, and I could listen to it a dozen times tomorrow, and not be moved in quite the same way.

I grew up thinking worship was something that happened very specifically and almost exclusively within the four walls of a building that was a designated 501(c)(3) church. We went to church to worship God. If I didn’t go, I was depriving God of the worship that was his due, and depriving my soul of its spiritual food. We might have “worship night” with the church college group, where we got together at the leader’s house to sing Christian songs to the accompaniment of one of the guy’s guitars, or we might visit the local megachurch on a Friday night for more songs and a sermon. But these were considered supplements to Sunday morning worship, and the feeling was always there that Sunday morning at your own church was the “best” worship. After all, you can’t trust people to know how to worship on their own– somebody has to be in charge of it, preferably a music director or a pastor. Worship had parameters.

We haven’t been going regularly to church for three years now. The reasons for that are manifold and are too much of a story to tell in this post. And even though right now I am mostly at peace with our unchurched existence, sometimes the old evangelical line between the sacred and the secular creeps in, that idea that, to paraphrase Rachel Held Evans, if God is over there (with the church-goers) then God cannot be here (with me) too. God is in church, and I am unchurched, therefore I cannot connect with God, I cannot worship.

But of course that is a lie.

I can remember a few times that the yearning came to me during a “worship service” at a church. But the vast majority of those times it came somewhere else, triggered by something that seemed only tenuously connected to the sacred side of things.

This used to cause me a great deal of anxiety. I didn’t know what the yearning was, only that it was overwhelming, pain and bliss simultaneously, an experience I longed for and yet could never, ever force. I tried to force it. I felt certain that it was connected to my soul, and if it was connected to my soul then surely its proper source should be in a church service. Surely only in worshiping God should my entire self respond with such passion. So I would stand in church singing, willing myself to have that yearning, that response, and come away feeling as though I had let God down when it wouldn’t come.

Such is the anxiety of the Christian life when God is safely boxed in and worship has strict parameters. To be so convinced that the presence of God dwelt only within the institution, so that any spiritual experience I might have outside that institution was automatically suspect and probably indicative of idolatry– after all it was God I was supposed to be dwelling on, not creation. I can remember hoping that if I intellectually connected those spiritual moments with something theological, it would keep my focus properly on God.

I wish I could go back to my poor worried self, to speak grace to her. I wish I could reassure her that throughout her whole life, those moments of beauty, courage, truth, grace, love, lament, hope, and joy, moments that made her heart sing and her spirit call out in yearning yes, yes! this is my true home, let me be at rest here– those were sacred moments, worship moments, every single one, regardless of the setting. I would tell her that it was the Divine spark in her that was yearning after the wild and mysterious, untamable, unboxable, un-institutionalized God who is her source, whose fingerprints are everywhere on this beautiful and broken creation. I would tell her that recognizing those Divine fingerprints is an act of worship, no matter where and how it is done.

What happened to me tonight with my headphones and my painting and The Arcadian Wild was worship. But worship is not limited to those moments of spiritual ecstasy. Any moment of grace, any act of service, any movement towards healing, any word of encouragement, any time and in any way a human being makes a choice that pulls the world a little further away from death and violence and non-being and closer towards life and flourishing and wholeness, that is worship. Every human heart that yearns after goodness, beauty, courage, hope, joy, and love, this is a heart seeking after the Divine, no matter what church or creed or faith may be the outward form.

Seek and you will find.

I leave you with the Arcadian benediction, personalized.

May you see yourself as you were meant to be: a wonder extraordinary, made to wander free and fearlessly, unto all eternity.


When it seems you’re all but drowning
May the water quench your thirsting
When the sun is nearly blinding
May you by it see everything

When your worry leaves you weary
May your sleep be sound and healing
When the road is long and winding
And the wrong story is selling
May you find your own worth writing
When the faeries tell of weeping
May you show them all the glory
When there’s too many to bury
May you know death lost already.

When the burden’s beyond bearing
May you know it’s not yours only
When your body’s worn and wasting
And time is only taking
May you find it all worth giving
In the silent war that’s raging
Keep quietly rebelling

When there’s always more to bury
May you know death lost already

In saecula saeculorum

When it seems you’re all but drowning
May the water quench your thirsting
When the sun is nearly blinding
May you by it see everything
As it was meant to be
A wonder extraordinary
Made to wander free and fearlessly
Unto all eternity
Because death has lost already.

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