Sam Radford

April 14, 2022

A life of love and faith outside of church services

Richard Rohr’s recent daily meditation is a reflection on ‘expanding circles of love’. He poses the question, ‘How do we love God?’, before saying:

Most of us seem to have concluded we love God by attending church services. For some reason, we think that makes God happy. I’m not sure why. Jesus never talked about attending services, although church can be a good container to start with. I believe our inability to recognize and love God in what is right in front of us has allowed us to separate religion from our actual lives. There is Sunday morning, and then there is real life. 

I wrote last week about my own religious journey. It focussed more on the past though; there’s probably scope for me sharing more about where I am currently. (What this space!)

Rohr’s meditation taps into some of my thoughts though. The truth is, if I never attend another church service in my life, I’d be more than happy. Honestly, that would be preferable! I spent much of my religious life in church services and have plenty of positive experiences from that. But I don’t think the future enrichment of my spiritual life is going to come predominantly from attending services inside church buildings.

Don’t hear me saying you shouldn’t seek enrichment in church services if that’s where you’re at. I’m not saying they’re all bad or don’t have a place; I’m saying they’re no longer for me. At least not right now. They trigger frustration and anxiety more than anything positive.

Thankfully, it is possible to walk in love—towards God and others—in ways far beyond the reach of a church service. A rich, vibrant, communal life of faith is possible, even if church buildings and services are no longer a source of nourishment.

In Rohr’s post, he goes on to explore what loving God looks like if doing it via attendance at church isn’t the avenue. He writes:

The only way I know how to teach anyone to love God, and how I myself seek to love God, is to love what God loves, which is everything and everyone, including you and including me! “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “If we love one another, God remains in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12). Then we love with God’s infinite love that can always flow through us. We are able to love things for themselves and in themselves—and not for what they do for us. That takes both work and surrender. As we get ourselves out of the way, there is a slow but real expansion of consciousness. We are not the central reference point anymore. We love in greater and greater circles until we can finally do what Jesus did: love and forgive even our enemies.

There’s lots to reflect on in that. It resonates though. Loving what God loves.

And love is what it always comes back to, isn’t it? If a church service helps point you toward love, that’s wonderful. But if it doesn’t, don’t feel bad about that. Love is what matters. Walking in love, growing in love, sharing love, being a channel of love—that is at the heart of all healthy faith, religion, and spirituality. 

You may, like me, have moved on from attending church services—or indeed never attended church services—but if you walk in love you’ll never be far from God. Why? Because God is love. 

One thing to remember though: You can’t walk in love alone. Yes, we need to know how to love ourselves, but love is never something you can experience to its fullest alone. It requires others; being with others, walking with others, serving with others. Healthy spiritually, fuelled by love, will always have a communal dimension. A formal, institutional church may not be what you need right now, but don’t go it alone. There are always others in a similar place to you.

—Sam

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👉 @samradford | samradford.com