Finding God’s peace in anonymity

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I walked into church feeling angry. An upsetting problem presented itself to me right before I got in the car to drive to Sunday Mass. I wanted to tackle the problem. Right. Now.

But now I was in church. It would have to wait.

And waiting was the best thing that could have happened to me. Sometime during that hour, my heartbeat slowed and my mind rested. By the time we were singing, “Hosanna,” an intense wave of peace had washed over me. Centering on prayer had cleansed my angry thoughts and reawakened a positive state of hopefulness. I walked out of church with a clearer vision on tackling the problem before me.

Finding peace in a church isn’t an unusual story. And it’s not the first time that a deep sense of peace engulfed me while in church. The unusual part is that the experience seems to happen only when I’m visiting a larger congregation instead of attending my own smaller, parish community.

This seems counterintuitive, and I’ve been wrestling with the nagging “why?” question.

A 100-household parish can offer an intimate sense of community and support to a member. But a 1,000-household parish can offer something pretty valuable to a visitor—a sense of anonymity.

It might seem like a better deal to grab the sense of community offered to its members from a smaller parish. Community and fellowship are some of the hallmarks of parish membership.

But I think a sense of anonymity gets short-changed. Sometimes, it’s easier to center on prayer without the distractions that can come with too much familiarity.

When I’m a visitor in a large parish, fewer people know me. I can escape into being anonymous. Nobody is mentally taking my attendance because I’m not even expected to be there. I feel invisible, and I like that. It allows me to first—just plain rest. And then rest in God.

It’s not that community and fellowship are bad things. Without relationships in life, we would have nothing. We need each other.

But sometimes it’s hard to find that balance of “together but separate,”—to worship together but separate out our own space of individual prayerfulness.

One of the truest things said about faith is that it’s a journey, with an ebb and flow to it. As a child, my parents brought me to church because they were doing their best to hand on the deposit of faith and the promise of salvation that was given to them. As a parent, I did my best to take my family to church for the same reasons. Now that my children are grown, I’m seeking more out of church-going. I’ve experienced the full and unexpected peace burst, and I want more of it. It just surprises me that it seems easier to find in the anonymous world.

This phase may pass, just as the period of being a child and the period of being a parent with young children has passed. It wouldn’t surprise me if my faith journey evolves and the lure of the benefits of community once again trump the desire for anonymity in my middle-aged faith life. Maybe someday I’ll be better able to master the “together but separate” challenge.

Until then, it’s enough to know that God’s peace is tangible. And it’s powerful. And worthy of seeking.

However we’re able to encounter it, through community or anonymity.

4 thoughts on “Finding God’s peace in anonymity

  1. I have traveled to a larger parish 14 miles away for several years. There is a wonderful smaller parish in my community. I have been involved with my local parish, and have many friends there. I have been questioned why I do not join them, because I one of them now. They are very kind. There is just something soothing in that Sunday Drive. I couldn’t Express what it was and you said it perfectly I like it I can just be I don’t have to think of anything else but concentrating on my faith.. I don’t have to greet anyone I don’t have to visit with anyone I don’t have to be concerned with what I have on. I do have the same to you when I go I do know the greater the priest and I’m good with that I thought that I was on Sandra thank you good job

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  2. I don’t know you, so take what I say with a grain of salt. This is just my reaction to your experience based on my experiences.

    I have a friend who is only half joking when she says, “Community would be great if it weren’t for all the people!” I totally get it. People who know us, and whom we know, can distract us, and interfere with our peace. They have expectations that feel like they hem us in. Getting away to a quiet place to connect with God once in awhile is awesome – Jesus did it himself – but don’t mistake that peaceful sensation as the pathway to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

    Jesus did not whisk us up to heaven to save us. He entered into the messy, hard life of living with people. His commandment wasn’t to adore him in greater purity and peace, but to love one another. I can gather up good will fairly easily toward a stranger, but real love demands a lot more of me. It takes knowing deeply and being known.

    Sure, a larger congregation can offer a bigger choir and better paid musicians. There is something uplifting about sharing an experience with a large group of strangers. But for all of the frustrations and distractions of a small community, that is where we are challenged to grow the spiritual gifts of patience and kindness that are the hallmark of biblical love (I Corinthians 13).

    I’m glad that you have found a place where worship can be a peaceful experience – but I hope you don’t totally give up on your little church. It has something to offer your faith that an anonymous worship experience (no matter how uplifting) can’t.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It’s good to remember to find that balance between seeking God’s presence through inner peace and also by building
      His kingdom within our own community. We need both, don’t we?!

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