A simile is a great way to describe a whole rounded idea, a situation, a truth. Jesus was great at similes… ‘the kingdom of God is like….’
I was talking to two friends yesterday, both working for aid agencies in the Middle East, both calm, intrepid and admirable women, and among many other things we spoke about the church. We have very different experiences of church life but we found a great core of like-mindedness as we chatted. We all, whoever we are, whatever age we are, wherever we live, struggle with aspects of church life, just as we all at times struggle with friends and family. I was casting around for some way of explaining my view of church life, fully accepting that I am the church and part of any churchy difficulties, and I remembered something that maybe illustrates my view of it. So , with no authority at all, and no claim to being right or wise, this is my view of church life sometimes. Just sometimes….
CHURCH IS LIKE …. a group of elderly ladies I once knew. A group of funny, chatty, Derby wimmin.
I would go swimming every morning in a beautiful large indoor pool, revelling in the sparkling clear water, attempting my 40 lengths. Every day this group of elderly ladies could be heard before they were seen, and as I swam slowly up and down the pool I would hear their distant laughter and chatter, and I would start to smile. After a few minutes of this they came, stepping gingerly through the footbath, maybe holding on to each other if they felt a bit shaky, and then to the steps halfway down the pool, to carefully lower themselves into the water. There would be a few “Oooh”s and “Aaah”s as they felt the temperature that day, and some more laughter. The water at these steps came up to their shoulders and there they would stand, for maybe half an hour, or a bit longer, chatting and putting the world to rights. They didn’t move from that spot and the rest of us would swim up and down past them, nodding a “Hello” or “How you doing?” to their flowery, brightly coloured swim caps. A bunch of flowerheads at the pool’s edge. The pool was huge, the possibilities were endless, they could have tried a few strokes or floated, they could have designed a synchronised swimming routine, they could have had gentle ponderous races (who is the slowest?), moving from breast stroke to lazy gliding backstroke. They didn’t. Instead they were faithful, regular and predictable. Then they would slowly haul themselves back up the steps and troop into the changing room, still full of chatter. As I left the pool for a day’s work I would see them sitting upstairs in the cafe, digging into pastries and tea, their laughter echoing.
What amuses me still is to imagine their families, their children and grandchildren, saying “Oh, Mum’s marvellous, you know! She’s 83 years old but she swims every day, sometimes for a whole hour!”
Church is like….. turning up, standing in our comfortable depth, enjoying our routine, and meeting up with people we like. Sometimes we don’t do a lot of swimming, but there’s always the tea and pastries afterwards. That’s what church is like sometimes. Not always. But often. From the outside it looks as if we have worshipped and rejoiced and yielded ….. as if we are ready to follow God wherever he leads…. to step out ‘where our feet would never wander’….. that’s the picture we present, the image we project. I wonder if maybe it’s not quite true?