The Fortunate Warrior decided to stay in Indianapolis for Christmas this year. One reason was no money to rent a car. Another was that the Union Street house in Indianapolis and the Elm Street house in Muncie are very similar – old, junky, cluttered, smelly, lack of good housekeeping, and cat infested. My parents do not decorate their mess for the holidays, while a tiny, fake, white tree was the centerpiece of a low-key effort to decorate the clutter at my house. I do want to see my mom when she is feeling better and not feeling obligated to cook a big holiday dinner.
I was even interested in going to church this season. However, mass transit does not run in my neck of the woods on Sundays, and on Christmas Eve none of the services at Christ Church Cathedral are timed with transit riders in mind. (Cabs you say? It’s just as expensive as renting a car.)
.Note that the title this post is about experience. It’s one of the reasons why I rarely go to church these days. Religious experience does not mean to me listening to endless readings of poorly revised scripture, commonplace hymns sung with out enthusiasm. Where is the surprise in all of this? The effort of church demands there be joy at the other end. I’m well aware that showing up is 80% of life, but my experience of church is sullied by churches as political institutions.
The following story is not original, but amply explains my emphasis on experience.
One up a time there was a Viking. He and his men plied the coast of northern Europe down every river and tributary. The murder and pillage had grown old over the years, so the Viking had decided to change their tactic. instead of a wild, berserker attack, they marched to the center of the village and announced:
“Hear me, all you people! If you can explain this new religion, the one of the Nazarene, your village will be spared. Otherwise we will slaughter you all and burn everything.”
Al this the priest was trotted out, reading out of a book, at which the Viking gave the signal and the slaughter began. This scenario was sadly repeated over and over again. The Viking was disappointed that no one seemed to know.
One day they are in a village and repeated the question and the threat. The Villagers murmured. They made the makings of a feast at the feet of their would-be slaughterers. They laid all their worldly possessions in piles, stacks of bolts of fine cloth, mounds of gold and silver, Wagons came from the Cathedral from which every precious thing had been stripped bare. Then the bishop laid his vestments down, now dressed as a parish priest.
The Villagers coaxed their captors as best they could down to the river where they stripped off their garb as warriors and bathed in cool waters. Dressed in as good of finery as could find, they were seated at the high table and served by the people themselves.
The Viking was now confused. Twice he told the people to share the feast; on the third time he bade them to eat, and they thanked them and ate and drank heartily. Instruments were retrieved from one of the great piles, and the people and the murderers who were their guests danced until the sun broke the horizon.
Then the people rearmed the Viking and his men and stood before them, awaiting slaughter.
The Viking spoke. ” I have been fulfilled this day with a great mystery, of people feasting and joyful in the face of death. So I spare your lives and your property for I have a sense that you have answered my question that shows me and does not tell me about the religion of the Nazarene.”
The Viking and his men were bade to follow the people into the cathedral, and there the Viking experiences the mystery all over again.
Many good things happened after this. The Viking released his men from their service, saying only to do no harm to the peaceful folk they encounter. Several men returned to the boats, but inscribed in the stone bluffs above the river for others to leave the town be. Most men stayed and married, making their living along the river or farming. The Viking became a monk and a scholar, traveling everywhere.