Each year my brother likes to attend the Christmas Eve service at a local church. And sometimes I go with him. My long-time friend is a preacher in Missouri. He has an open attitude toward different perspectives on Jesus and God. So I thought it would be worthwhile to attend a church of the same denomination.
It was nice to be in a room full of Christians. Everyone was in a good mood. The choir sang many Christmas songs. Children walked up to the front of the church dressed as characters from the story of Jesus’ birth. And passages from the Bible were read that pertained to Jesus’ birth.
Yet something important was missing. The service was more like a school play then a religious service. People were focused on the external ceremony—the Christmas play that was being performed. There was little, if any, emphasis on each person’s internal connection with Jesus and the divine.
Three people spoke during the service: the pastor and his two assistants. Each recited a memorized speech instead of speaking from the heart. They read passages from the Bible, but they used a modern translation that did not contain the powerful and inspiring language found in the King James version. They spoke about Jesus mostly in the past, as some figure that was born and is now long gone. They made no reference to the eternal, ever-present Christ that each one of us can connect with now, in this moment.
Not every pastor is good spiritual teacher. Because a pastor can only teach others what he has learned through his own relationship with Jesus.
Each of us is at a different point on the spiritual path. And a lot of people enjoy the external rituals that take place in a church service. Yet what matters in making true spiritual progress is our ability to still the mind and experience the divine directly. And this aspect of Jesus’ teachings is missing from many church services.
Throughout the Christmas service, I focused on my connection with Jesus. It has been my main spiritual practice of late since Jesus’ grace is more easily accessible this time of year.
I will probably not attend church service next Christmas. Perhaps the only church I need is nature. And my church service is watching the sunset on the ocean.