And, increasingly we have been moving away from many traditions and the religious institutions that offered both guidance on how to have a good life, and stability and comfort in times of difficulty. This is especially true of the trend away from church attendance and membership. Scandals, prejudice and a perceived lack of kindness and compassion have seriously challenged the image of the church that Jesus envisioned, which was more like a community emanating from an understanding of God as unchanging divine Love.
Additionally, virtually our entire culture now encourages individualism over community and materialism over spirituality in our search for happiness, health, and stability.
This makes movie star Jennifer Garner’s decision to return to church, and her open discussion with Huffington Post as to the the reasons for doing so, quite interesting.
Having been raised in a churchgoing family, Garner realized that, although she had never lost her Christian roots, her Hollywood life had alienated her from that feeling of groundedness that she had always experienced in belonging to a church. It took the experience of working on her movie, Miracles from Heaven, to remind her that she missed the regular activity of belonging to a church. She was missing the stability and support it can offer in both the good and bad times that everyone encounters in life. In talking about it with her children, she realized that they too wanted that structure in their lives
In an interview about why this movie was so inspiring to her, Garner was asked how she explains God to her children when they question her as to why bad things happen. She answered with the response a pastor had given her when she asked him that same question.
He said: “Everyone is gonna struggle. I have been through struggles both ways – with faith, and without. You can’t expect the world just to be good. You can’t have faith only when good things are happening in the world. That is the whole point. You have to dig deeper.”
To me, what really stood out was Garner’s recognition of her need for spiritual structure – for herself and her children – a faith, a foundation and a community that can guide and sustain them.
And she is not alone in this decision. Despite the overall trend away from church, there is a growing movement among millenials who are rediscovering needed stability in the structure and sacredness of church services. It’s appearing in some unlikely places – such as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. According to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph, the numbers of students attending church services, particularly evensong in the college chapels is rising significantly. Apparently, the attraction is the combination of beautiful sacred music along with the mysterious 16th century language of the Book of Common Prayer. Gathering together for Liturgy is gaining the attention of busy, stressed students.
What they are discovering is that the words they are listening to and the sense of community that surrounds them have, throughout the ages, comforted and healed people. And, that’s consistent with numerous studies today that indicate spirituality and significant ties to a faith community improve people’s health in a number of ways.
Looking beyond human opinions regarding the institution, Mary Baker Eddy shared this definition, which takes us to the heart of Jesus’s vision for his church:
Church: The structure of Truth and Love: …”
Eddy’s definition helps us understand that it isn’t the building we are sitting in or the music or even the words themselves, however beautiful and uplifting they often are. Rather, it’s the spiritual ideas Jesus taught that are behind the words that can guide, comfort and heal. And coming together with a community of fellow followers has the potential to provide strength and stability in tough times. We experience a sense of unity, of peace and of being divinely, unconditionally loved.
Looking everywhere – from technology to drugs, to entertainment, to professional and financial success – in search of a secure, healthy and happy life, isn’t working for a lot of people. Garner’s decision to walk in the opposite direction, away from the materialistic culture around her and towards a more spiritual way of life for her family, is courageous. And, it makes perfect sense.