I sat down to start reading Searching for Sunday a little over a month and a half ago, and I couldn’t get past page xvi before I was sobbing. I’ve been reading this paragraph out loud to everyone I know, and it’s one of the things that rang inside of my soul like a sonorous bell:
This book is entitled Searching for Sunday, but it’s less about searching for a Sunday church and more about searching for Sunday resurrection. It’s about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It’s about giving up and starting over again. It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun.
Just in case.
And I’m sobbing again. That sentence– I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun— is exactly where I am right now. Exactly. It put every agonized, spirit-wrenching emotion I’ve had over the last few months into a dozen words. I sat my Nook down and cried like a baby until Handsome asked me what was wrong and we had a four-hour-long conversation about why we’re still bothering with this whole “being a Christian” thing.
This book was for me, and I think this book might be for a lot of you, too. If there’s a part of you– a big part, a small part– that is whispering the question why am I still a Christian? then I think you might need to read this. Not because she has some earth-shattering answer that will miraculously solve all our problems. I didn’t finish this book, set it down, and think to myself “ah, this was just the thing I needed to get me to go to church again.” I still have reservations, and questions, and doubts, and the thought of walking into a church still terrifies me. But it did help make hope a little more possible.
Since we left our last church, I came to the conclusion that my emotional well-being will not let me attend a church where a) women are barred from any form of leadership whatsoever, and complementarian messages are preached from the pulpit in subtle or overt ways, and/or b) anyone in church leadership embraces the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to the LGBTQ community. Those may not be hard lines for you (nor do they have to be), but they are for me now. Finding a church that doesn’t conflict with either of those has been … difficult. The longer I’m away from church, the easier it is to wake up like I did yesterday, make cinnamon buns and read The Great Hunt out loud to my partner while I pet my cat.
But the longer I’m away from church, the more a sliver in the back corners of my heart hungers for the bread the wine. Reading Searching for Sunday was a gentle, gracious, gorgeous reminder that I do believe in the sacraments. I do believe in the Body. Reading her chapters on Communion was one of the most sacred experiences I’ve ever had, and it gave me the nudge I needed to start reaching out again. I don’t know where this road will take me– maybe further away from church, from faith, I don’t know. But I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to try again, even if I get terribly burned.
Going through this book was comforting, and encouraging. It was like sitting down with a friend and drinking tea and being honest in a way that terrifies both of you, but once you start talking you can’t seem to stem the flow of words. Each slicing knife wound is recounted, each euphoric moment comes out tinged over with a little bit of sadness. You’re sad because you wish your faith were still that simple, that fresh and naive– and sad because you know that those moments of happiness came in the middle of suffering, and the pain made those brief moments of joy seem like ambrosia.
But we can’t get rid of who we are. There are many days, many weeks when I wish I could pave over my life and pretend like there isn’t a graveyard underneath what I’m building, but our lives aren’t like that. At one point in the book, Rachel uses the metaphor of a palimpsest, and that image made me catch my breath. My theology might look and feel completely and utterly removed from anything I thought or believed as a child, but there are remnants peeking through, things I won’t ever be able to shake.
I won’t ever be able to forget the look on my pastor’s wife when I tried to tell her I’d been sexually assaulted and she called me a liar who was only jealous of his musical talents.
But I won’t ever be able to forget it when I came to her, unsure that I’d been “sorry enough” when I’d said the sinner’s prayer, and she hugged me and took her face into my hands and said that wasn’t up to me, that the only thing that mattered was that Jesus loved me.
I won’t ever be able to forget the time a family friend lectured and berated me for not respecting my mother enough to clean our house like Martha Stewart would when I was 10, contributing to a complex that still has me panicking before anyone sees my home.
But I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came to my senior piano recital and she was so proud of me she could have burst, or that when she hugged me afterward she cried when she told me she loved me.
For better or for worse, all of those things are part of who I am today, all so mixed up and confusing it would be easier if I could set it all aside. However, Rachel reminded me that the God I believe in is one who makes all things new. She cares for the broken things, even the dead things, and restores them.
Searching for Sunday officially releases tomorrow, although if you’re near a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble some already have it stocked. If you buy it sometime this week and show a proof of purchase, you gain access to the “launch celebration” goodies. And yes, I got a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.