I have been playing around in my head with the metaphor of a spa pool for a way to describe Church. Before I go too far along this metahor, I should make clear that when I say ‘Church’, I mean the gathered together group of Christians who form Church together in wherever, whatever place that is for them.
I would love to have a spa pool. One day… maybe. I find it so invigorating, relaxing, refreshing and soothing. When I’ve had the chance to sit in a spa pool by myself, outside on a starry night – it just feels so great. Water and I have always been friends, and while I’d love a swimming pool (but hey – can’t really complain I live 500m from the most amazing beach), soaking in warm water is something else – especially at night.
The stars shine brightly, the dark silhouettes of trees shake in their own rhythmic dance, and the moon smiles its friendly face down on our little piece of earth. Soaking in that warm water, it encompasses me, cocoons and shelters me, seems to protect me from the cold night and makes me feel safe. The worries of the day, the stresses of the week, all soak away while the physical bruises and bumps, the aching muscles are soothed and removed. Problems seem suddenly smaller, and the world tilts on it’s axis and everything seems a whole lot better. (Why do stars seem brighter when I’m in a spa pool?)
I’ve soaked in spa pools when rain is pouring down, making sitting in the warm water all the more pleasant, and making it not so much fun to get out grab a soaking wet cold towel and use it to remove the warm water to stop the dripping on the carpet inside. It all seems worth it – even when the weather elements are all set to ruin the fun. The spa pool almost creates a space which is complete, connected and whole. Perhaps it’s even more so when the spa pool is in a circle shape. (Why is it that circles always create a never-ending closeness about them?) We once stayed in a little cabin on Waiheke Island, an island not far in the harbour out from Auckland City. We weren’t facing the city and with the electric lights out in the cabin, and not a light in our line of sight, it felt like we were the only ones in the world, sitting in our circular spa pool.
Which is what I love about gathering together in a Church community. It’s a place we can be ourselves, we can be refreshed, revitalized and soothed. It’s the spa pool we come to when we gather together, encourage and challenge each other, as we deal with the daily realities of our faith living lives. It warms us, heals us, calms us and reminds us of the mystery and wonder of our faith. It makes us feel connected and part of an unbreakable circle.
But… not all Church gatherings are like that. They’re not always places where people gather to get refreshed and soothed. And it bothers me. It bothers me that sometimes Church seems to be about outdoing everyone else in our ‘Christian-ness’ (which from my viewpoint doesn’t always look all that Christian). I don’t like that sometime Church i’s about power and control and other very non-mysterious and non-appealing things. Things that can be found in lots of other places without having to gather together as Church to find them. Things where I struggle to see the example and life of Jesus in action.
If we sit in a spa pool too long (presumably the heat control is constant and the warm water is there as long as you can stand the heat) skin gets all wrinkled, we overheat and we feel light headed and funny. We try to stand up and our blood rushes to our head (or out of our head or something medically technical)- so we struggle to stand, let alone walk from the pool to the indoors. And then we feel nauseous and thirsty and uncomfortable. It’s not so pleasant overcooking in warm water. I can’t imagine it’s all that healthy for us either. In fact the whole benefit of this amazing experience gets lost – and something that which felt so good and awesome, now feels so bad. Instead of invigorating it suffocates, instead of refreshing it exhausts and somehow the most wonderful experience in the world becomes wrinkly and tiring and underwhelming.
I was wondering if overcooking in the spa pool is kind of like one of those Churches that is all encompassing. The kind where every day of the week there is something I could do with my fellow Church friends, so that from week to week I stay on a wonderfully warm, encouraging and all encompassing, connected, amazing high. The Church offers me a full on schedule of opportunity to interact and grow and learn with my fellow journeyers. Of course I do think that sometimes we do need to stay in the spa pool longer, or have more frequent soaks for long periods… seasons and times when our journey of life and faith is demoralizing and hard work and we need to spend good lengths of time refreshing and recharging, soothing our aches and pains so we go out there and carry on.
But what about the other times? The times when everything is going great in our own lives and we stay within the connected circle of the Church because we’ve got so used to it and we like it. When we get too overcooked in our Spa Pool Church that we become apprehensive of the darkness outside of our warm connected circle. We get wrinkly and light headed and can’t figure out which way is up when we try and walk away from the Spa Pool. We lose all understanding of the benefits of the spa pool because we’ve avoided getting the bruises, bumps and aching muscles of living outside of the Spa Pool.
It is a balancing act. I don’t know if we’ll ever get it right – those of us that like life both in and out of the Spa Pool. This balance between living out our faith in the ordinary world with others who might or might not be on the Christian journey and gathering together in our Spa Pool Churches with others who are on the journey. In the words of the Great Commission from Matthew’s gospel is the challenge that stirs me every time I hear it, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV) It’s a very ‘doing’ instruction from Jesus… not really the instruction that says we should spend all our time soaking up the warmth of the Spa Pool. And it’s comforting too… because even when we’re outside of the Spa Pool, Jesus is with us – to the end of the age.
(Photo credit: Adobe stock image)