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A few years ago, I read a profile of Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz in GQ Magazine. The writer was Jewish but unsure of her faith at the time and her perspective of him and his megachurch was fascinating. She described a conversation she had with Lentz about belief in God and how she suddenly had an urge to confess: “I wanted to tell him then that I feel lost lately, that sometimes I felt this overwhelming sense that I’m not tethered to anything real.”
I’ve never forgotten the way she described belief—as being tethered. To something real.
I have craved this feeling lately as I have felt so untethered from everything real in my life. Friends, work, church, relationships—it’s all sort of floaty. Some of it exists virtually, some of it exists in friends’ driveways from a social distance. But none of it feels very concrete. Even grocery shopping with the waiting in line outside and wearing of masks is a strange, dystopian experience. Not of this time, but another’s.
In mid-March when all of this started sweeping our side of the world, I suddenly found myself in touch with almost every friend I’ve ever had. Or at least, the ones I’ve had meaningful connections with. I was on a Zoom call with my friends from Nashville, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to in months. I FaceTimed with three girlfriends from high school whom I had never group FaceTimed with before. I was texting friends I hadn’t spoken to in over a year. A group text formed with some friends from church and has remained strong. I began to feel the tethers I had formed, some recently and some decades ago, pull me toward those on the other end.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a non-church-going friend about church. He commented that I seemed to be very social, which is funny because I feel like I’m becoming more of a homebody with each passing day—and I felt this way well before COVID—but I explained to him that that’s how church people are. We do things together. We have weekly meetings, coffee catchups, discipleship groups, community groups, mid-week services. Call it what you want, we gather. We like to be together. I am sure this goes for every faith community.
“I guess that’s why people go,” my friend commented. And he wasn’t wrong. Something I’ve taken for granted as a lifelong church person is the community that comes with it. I don’t go to church just to grow spiritually. I go there to be with my friends, and to make friends. It’s like going to a running group or being a part of a book club, only with church, the common interest is God.
I felt this deeply while recently watching a virtual gathering of worship leaders from churches all over the UK sing a song called “The Blessing.” I’m a little embarrassed at how emotional this video made me. I’ve heard this song before, and I’ve seen lots of other choirs and worship teams pull together voices like this during a time when the church cannot physically meet, but there was something about everyone being from a different church, denomination, and theology, all singing the same song together that so perfectly captured what I’ve been imagining is there: an invisible, powerful network of threads pulling us to one another when we need each other most.
It’s something I can’t stop thinking about. This has not been a season of new for me. I don’t really have the capacity for new friendships or relationships or anything that falls on the surface-level side of interaction. I have found myself craving deep connection and reaching out to the ones I know I have that with. What a gift it is.
Today for work I was writing about Jesus as light. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said in John 8:12. It reminded me of research I had done on this statement and its connection to the lampstand described in Exodus. The lampstand, or menorah, was big and heavy and made of one solid piece of gold. It provided light in the Holy Place in the tabernacle and was made of seven stems, one central stem with three others on each side. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the lampstand holds a lot of meaning and symbolism (look up “almond blossom” if you really want to get into it). In Christianity, it prophesies the coming of Christ and later, in Revelation, the lampstand symbolizes the church. Jesus is the light of the world; the church is the light on the hill (Matthew 5:14). I like this imagery for the church. Not a building, but branch-like stems made from one piece of gold. Parts that are connected and always have been.
This is what I think about when I watch worship leaders worship together from their living rooms, and I end up on Zoom calls with friends in distant places or have a lengthy conversation in my group text about what we’re all making for dinner tonight. Because we are all making dinner. Every night. It is nice to be tethered right now and to remember this isn’t something I only need or have in this season. It is something I need and have always. The secret, invisible network of threads, the stems and the branch, the things that tether me to something real.