In our day to day “liturgy” we are worshipping GOD in Ecuador with more freedom than we have ever experienced together. Geoff wakes me each morning with readings from the gospels, we take walks on the beach and meditate on the beauty of His Creation, we engage in the ministry of loving on and being loved on by kids at the orphanage, and we celebrate the fellowship of new friends from all around the world. We break bread together and remember the body and blood of Christ in our Sabbath meal each week and on other days as our hearts are drawn. We also relish our times alone with our Savior on the roof or beach during the day (early and late, respectively).
If we were back in Texas and not attending a congregational service, we would miss it because in that culture it is a part of our liturgy of worship. However, here in Ecuador where such an opportunity does not exist, HE has shown us how much bigger His church is than four walls and dedicated believers, and our hearts have not lacked for opportunity or outlet to find praise and fellowship in Him. So to say we “miss” congregational worship would be untrue; we value it, are thankful for it, but through GOD’s provision nothing is currently “missing.”
Last week I began reading “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith” by Barbara Brown Taylor. I am enjoying this book more than any I have read in a long time – and I’ve read some great books lately! I can’t finish it because I keep starting over to re-read favorite parts and to read them out loud to Geoff! In the opening chapter of the book she relives the beautiful experience of a walk taken on the Big Island of Hawaii. She had me from aloha.
I was able to live on the Big Island of Hawaii for almost a year after graduating from college. When I first arrived I started looking for a “church,” and pursued fellowship with those of the same heritage I was raised in. I did not feel bound to a specific denomination but didn’t know a soul on the Island, and it seemed like a good place to start. The group of 10-15 met in homes during the week and in a school cafeteria for the more formal “Sunday worship.” Their constant conversation, even during the “services” themselves, was focused on their need for a “church” (building). They struggled to afford the 2 hour rent of the cafeteria, as it was. Let me remind you, we lived in Hawaii – land of perfect weather and beautiful wide open beaches. “Why don’t you just meet on the beach and save the money? You’d be able to reach more people, too!” I was excommunicated. That was okay, because the next week I found a bunch of Jesus lovers who DID meet for “church” on the beach! Not only that, but they arrived early to make and serve breakfast for the homeless, each other, and any other beach-goer that showed up. Every week there were people wandering away from their beach chairs to listen in on the sermon, or singing. Sermons stopped immediately for whale-sightings as praising GOD for such displays of creation took center stage. This was church. I learned a lot from that experience, and more from several others I’ve had while travelling this earth and experiencing GOD in many different cultures and unique forms of worship experiences. I am thankful for each one.
The people of God are not the only creatures capable of praising God, after all. There are also wolves and seals. There are also wild geese and humpback whales. According to the Bible, even trees can clap their hands. Francis of Assisi loved singing hymns with his brothers and sisters – who included not only brother Bernard and Sister Clare, but also Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Francis could not have told you the difference between “the sacred” and “the secular” if you had twisted his arm behind his back. He read the world as reverently as he read the Bible. For him, a leper was as kissable as a bishop’s ring, a single bird as much a messenger of God as a cloud full of angels. Francis had no discretion. He did not know where to draw the line between the church and the world.“ (pg. 9)
People encounter God under shady oak trees, on riverbanks, at the tops of mountains, and in long stretches of barren wilderness. God shows up in whirlwinds, starry skies, burning bushes, and perfect strangers. When people want to know more about God, the son of God tells them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, to women kneading bread and workers lining up for their pay.
Whoever wrote this stuff believed that people could learn as much about the ways of God from paying attention to the world as they could from paying attention to scripture...” (pg. 12)
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (kindle edition)