God’s Pew

March 10, 2012


I’m not sure in which pew God sits in church, but I’ve experienced the sovereignty of His presence while sitting under a tree, cloistered within the woods. I’ve heard his rapturous voice within a piece of music and seen his written word upon the page. He is in the face of a stranger, a child, or the hug of a friend just as much as he is the artist’s palette and hands.

Church or fellowship has its place as well, at least for me. Sometimes when the world gets to me, when I can feel the internal tentacles of resentment or anger begin to intrude upon and poison my sense of peace, that one-hour of music and praise within those four walls called ‘church’, becomes a mighty antidote. That being said, I was in church a few months back, dealing with myself there in the pew: sitting, listening, wondering, praying, digging at my darkness; hoping to loosen the topsoil so the seeds of gratitude could more easily take root. I was having little success.

A bit of winter lingered in the air and so most of the people seated there still had their coats on.  I looked about the room as the music played and saw a young man seated in the back, wearing only a heavy sweater. He was new to the church and the tattoos that encircled his neck like murals were clearly visible from where I sat.  More tattoos were emblazoned upon the backs of his hands and a small ring punctured his left nostril. He looked like ‘trouble’. This is where I say I had an immediate attraction to him, not for this reason, but because he was an anomaly here. And I am attracted to anomalies, the fringe dwellers, the thoughtlessly marginalized.

I don’t remember what the sermon was. I was too involved with my own internal processes to give note, now. I do remember scribbling some scriptures upon the program to research later. Then it was time for the inevitable offering; for the missionaries, for the pastor’s salaries, for the heat that was keeping us all semi-warmed. I opened my wallet, took out the bills and curled them within my hand as we prayed that the money would be put to good use and multiplied. I wished I had more to give. I always wish this, not as much for myself but to have more in order to give more here and everywhere. I want to be able to bestow. It’s a dream of mine.

Now, we don’t pass the collection plate up and down each aisle as most churches do; instead, everyone walks up to the front of the church and places whatever they have into the baskets. Then we hug and chat and say things to each other like “Good to see you!” as we meander back to our seats. Just as I sat down, my tattooed anomaly of a man arose from his seat and approached the front of the church.  Standing with his back to the congregation, he began to pull his sweater up and over his head, the T-shirt underneath also rising with his sweater and revealing bare skin. The room went silent. I thought, ‘Oh No! He’s stripping naked right in front of everyone!” Then I thought, “Oh no, he has a gun buried under his sweater and now that he is in the front of the room, he is going to turn around and shoot us all, just like at Columbine!” Then I thought I should leave my seat and try to get away as soon as possible. Then I thought, maybe I should stay right where I was and hide under the pews while I called the police, my voiced hushed and trembling. Maybe I should call my children to say my last goodbye’s. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

The room was uncomfortably silent; watching, waiting. After he removed his sweater, he pulled his T-shirt back down over his exposed skin and then placed his sweater in the offering basket. There were gasps in the congregation, gasps of surprise and astonished reverence. He had no money to give, only this. And so this is what he gave. Then he walked back to his seat amid the humbled silences. Awed by his act and just as relieved, I stood up and clapped for him. Shortly, the others joined in with me.

He left before the service was over, before I could thank him for this lesson in humility. Just when you don’t think you have enough to give, someone else literally gives the shirt off their back. He was a living demonstration of this overly used cliche.

And now, because of him,  I think I know the pew where God sits. And those seeds of gratitude began to grow and peek their heads through the darkened soil.

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