Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life

Dear Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn, Why We Go to Church

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Window of church

Window of our church

Dear Wyatt, Luke and Wynn,

Why We Go To Church

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the time light, the eternal truth that is with God. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday mornings, my husband, Noé, and I hear a single refrain from our three teenagers. This refrain echoes from under the covers, over breakfast, and in the car as we drive to worship, “Why do we go to church?” When the kids aren’t home, Noé says this, just so it will feel like a Sunday for us. Again and again, Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn ask amidst great sighs and downtrodden looks.

My own memories of church revolve around giggling in the pews with my friend, Mico. We sat, listened, and tried to muffle our laughter. I remember the pastor’s hand on my head as I was confirmed. I don’t remember what he said about me, but that it seemed pretty good and made Mom and Dad cry. I remember that I wanted to be that person he’d just described. Throughout college and my early 20s, my relationship with church placed me firmly among what my dad calls, “C and E Christians,” attending only at Christmas and Easter. Then, Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn were born, everything changed and  life has centered on creating a nest for them. We attended both Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches in California. I was drawn to both. The first time I attended worship with a newborn Wyatt and wondered about breast feeding in church, my dear friend Lynn said, “Dawn, God knows what breasts are for.”

My journey with our church in Santa Fe is especially poignant for me, as there was a time I swore that I would never set foot within the sanctuary again. It is because of that journey that this community means so very much to me.

Church ceiling

Ceiling of our church

The kids’ and my life within the church has two chapters—with a five-year gap in between them. When the kids were very young, our family was involved with the church. The kids scampered up and down the center aisle and played under the altar between services. Then, the tectonic plates of life shifted and sent all of us tumbling. A place that had once been a place of sanctuary and community became a place laced with pain. Churches are composed of humanity – in all of our glory and imperfections. Over the next few years, a lot of humanity happened under the wooden and carved roof. The experience became increasingly painful until I decided the only thing to do was leave. Sunday mornings yawned open into deep emptiness and a sense of free fall replaced the sense of community that had been so foundational in the kids’ and my lives. I felt the loss acutely. I tried a couple of other church communities, but nothing felt right. Nothing felt like home.

A couple of years later I did return to a worship service at the church. I wept throughout. Not small, dainty, evocative tears, but huge, wracking mascara-running sobs. The kind you can’t stop. I went through every tissue in Dad’s pockets, before he leaned over and whispered, “You didn’t tell me that I needed to bring a towel.”

A bright light during this time, I was asked to teach the course, “Reclaiming the Divine Feminine.” The deep relationships formed with my co-teachers, students, and the divine feminine across the globe throughout history opened within me veins of connection, gave language to experiences I felt, but had no words for, and has forever influenced how I understand and walk through this world.

Another few of years passed. I avoided driving by the sanctuary for the feelings it reignited. The rhythm of church and our community there faded into history for the kids, becoming hazy impressions and disconnected memories. I developed new rhythms for Sundays, ran miles along the trails, and tried to shush and ignore the whisper of longing for a community of faith for the kids and me. I missed the people. I missed the ritual and rhythm grounding us. I missed our advocacy for social justice and equal rights for all, irregardless of gender, sexual orientation, country of birth, or mother tongue. I missed our celebration of each individual’s uniqueness. I missed our prayers for family, friends, and what was happening around the world. I missed Sage with her walker decorated festively for each season, flowers for spring, pumpkins for fall, and twinkling lights for the winter. I missed watching the changing of the seasons through the windows.

When Noé and I met, I shared brief shards of my experiences, the reasons I’d left. As a Catholic, he had all kinds of questions about Protestants. We shared our gratitude for the rhythms, heritage, and connection we’d experienced in church with our families. His father’s rosary hung in a place of honor over his mother’s Lady of Guadalupe in his home. “For me,” he said, “church is how we treat people every day. Worship on Sundays is a focus on goodness that we can spread out through the week.” I touched lightly on what the church had meant to me, and even more lightly on what it might be like to return. Years had passed. The glorious and imperfect composition of all of our humanity had shifted. Perhaps we might try.

Window 2Noé and I went to church. I loaded my purse and stuffed Noé’s pockets with tissue. On the drive there, Noé imitated me peeking up over the pew during the service. He acted out how he would tamp out the fires coming up around his feet when he entered as a Catholic. It was a relief to laugh. Terrified, I insisted we sit in the back pew. I looked out the high windows to the branches outside. Oh, how I missed that. I loved to watch the branches move through the seasons against the shifting sky and light. I took in the first buds of spring, a long-awaited slight cast of green, the full leaves of summer, moving into the yellows and reds of fall, and winter’s stark outlines of snow. On certain days in the year, a shaft of light pours down into one of the pews, setting the dust motes and whoever is sitting there aglow. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in that shaft of light a few times, it follows the seasons. I lifted my face, closed my eyes, and drank in the light. After the service, person-after-person came and hugged me and welcomed Noé with open arms. When we left that day, I cried again. But these were tears of healing and wonder at the kindness shown to us. It felt like coming home.

So much of our relationship with our church community, have been leaps of faith. Earlier that year, Wyatt, Noé, and I met with the reverend to learn more about confirmation classes. Wyatt approached this as an arachnophobic might approach a tarantula. We listed as the pastor spoke about confirmation, what it represented, and what would be involved in the classes.

“What do you think, Wyatt?” the pastor asked.

“I just don’t see God doing anything anymore. In all the stories we read from the Bible, there are all of these major events,” Wyatt said. “I know my mom says God is grace and love and compassion,” here I believe he actually rolled his eyes, “But, I just don’t see that God’s done anything since the Bible was written.” The pastor listened as Wyatt detailed over the next several minutes all of the reasons why he did not believe there was a Christian god. God is present in the listening.

Not long after, Wyatt was invited to participate with an organization as a student ambassador and travel throughout the UK. The cost of the trip was far beyond our means. Something deep inside me told me that this trip was exponentially important for my oldest son who struggled to find his place in the world and with himself.

“Wyatt, we will do this somehow,” I said. “You have to step up to the plate for this to work.”

Wyatt spoke to our congregation with poise, humor, and maturity about his fascination with the legends and history of the UK, how he would present on what he learned when he returned, and said that we would be making homemade apple pies to sell to raise money. This young man who just weeks before asked if he could speak with me alone in his room, and told me how the kids at school made fun of him, because he read so much, they called him names, and he didn’t know what he was going to do with his life. “Wyatt, you’re fifteen. There’s time.” My words fell unheard to the floor.

Wyatt in Ireland

Wyatt in Ireland

Now, he stood talking, smiling, open – and the congregation responded. Our family baked dozens of pies and the church community donated generously toward making Wyatt’s dream a reality. Noé and I had just married. Through this experience, our new family gathered together around making pies for months, each with our own area of specialization, the Wyatt and Luke peeled, Noé and Wynn made the crust, I added sugar, spices, and butter and did the baking. Through this foundation of a common goal, our family talked, worked side-by-side, and we became a whole. I realized this one evening as we started, the boys busy peeling and talking, and Wynn called to Noé, “Where’s my partner? We’ve got to make the crust!” The congregation took a leap of faith and kindled the best of Wyatt to spark and burn.

Leaps of faith sparkle throughout Luke’s relationship with our church community. Noé proposed and Luke wanted to be ring bearer, we dubbed him Lord of the Rings. Two weeks before Noé and I married, 13-year-old Luke said, “Mom, I want to speak at your wedding.”

“Wonderful. Do you know what you’re going to say?”

“Yes.”

I waited.

“Do you want to tell me what you’re going to say?”

“Nope.”

Through my mind, “13-years-old, his mom’s getting married, not really sure what he thinks about all of this, and he doesn’t want to tell me what he’s going to say…”

I told my parents and the reverend what was happening and decided to trust Luke, as did the reverend. A leap of faith.

“And now on behalf of the family,” the reverend announced during the ceremony, “Luke would like to say a few words.” As the moment drew close, there were at least two sets of white-knuckled hands at the wedding, the bride and groom and the bride’s parents.

“When I first met Noé,” Luke stepped forward, the Dia de los Muertos pillow with the rings held in both hands, “I didn’t like him very much. I thought he was too loud and talked too much.” I don’t think I breathed at that point. I looked at Noé’s family gathered for the wedding. All eyes were now in rapt attention on Luke. “Then, I discovered that I could talk with Noé about anything,” Luke continued, “and he really listened and heard me. I’ve never seen my mom so happy. Noé loves her like a husband should, and he loves my brother, sister, and me the way a dad should.”

The very best of Luke shone through.

I would never have guessed how the church would highlight Wynn’s gifts. After Wynn was born, she screamed for four years. Not normal baby crying, not fussiness, not temporary. Four. Years. Straight. Wynn. Screamed. She resisted eye contact, and turned her body stiff as a board when in the stroller. People heard us coming for miles. When friends came over they walked in the front door and looked immediately at the floor, “Don’t make eye contact.”  If you ask Wyatt and Luke now what they remember about her as a baby, they say, “She screamed all the time.” At four-years-old, Wynn started pre-school, promptly quit speaking, and refused to say a word in school for the next several months.

We returned to church, and when we stood to sing a hymn, and beside me this voice, this angel’s voice, lifted. I turned to see who was singing, and was stunned to discover that the word rhythm appeared to match Wynn’s mouth. I leaned in closer, peeking out from under my eyelids (Don’t make eye contact). A friend once described Wynn’s screaming, “It’s like her spirit is way too big for her tiny body and she is pissed off.” In the years we’d been away, Wynn’s voice had grown into that huge, magnificent spirit.

In each instance, we didn’t know how any of that was going to turn out, we trusted, the church trusted, and the kids rose to the occasion, became their very best selves. The seas did not part, no bushes burned, and no doves returned with sprigs of an olive branch. God isn’t just big booming acts. “I take the Bible far too seriously,” wrote Madeleine L’Engle, “to take it literally.” God is in the small daily ways we take care of each other, believe in each other, and stand up for what is just and good. God isn’t about answers. God is about wrestling with important questions, surrounding yourself with people who uplift, and all those small daily acts of beauty, of doing what we can to make the world a better place.

Now Noe’s father’s rosary hangs on his mother’s Lady of Guadalupe in our bedroom, as we dress to attend our Presbyterian church. Both are home to us. It’s like dual citizenship. I believe in a God big enough for all.

That, Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn is why we go to church.

* * *

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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the beauty and tensions of language, culture, and place.

47 thoughts on “Dear Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn, Why We Go to Church

  1. I loved this! It speaks so clearly to me as it echoes my thoughts about church so succinctly. I envy you the tree that stands outside your church’s window. We have stained glass. Beautiful in it’s own way, but not as beautiful as a tree, even with barren branches in the winter. I love how God for you is big enough for all, and I understand how and why you left the church for a while. I never did but there was a time when I wanted to. And I love your kids and how you made a new family together with Noe. I love Madeleine L’engle’s book Walking on Water and the quote about the Bible, can’t remember if that is where the quote is from.

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  4. What a journey and one that many of us have experienced between disappointments with out church home over the years and frustrations of building a church foundation for our children. But you have written about this shared experience so beautifully and it really touched my heart. I will share your gift of writing with our kids and thank you for making me laugh and cry.

    • Lisa, It is a gift to read your words and feel the shared experience of all, the laughter and the tears, the joy and the frustration. Thank you and thank you! xo

  5. I love laughing through tears, Dawn. What a poignant and honest piece of writing! And a beautiful story. Thank you.

    • Rebecca, Loved what you wrote. “Laughing through the tears,” is so true about so very much in life. Thank you so much for taking the time to write, Rebecca. xoxo

  6. Dawn, Dawn, Dawn. Reading this sitting on my porch, savoring the space of solitude that is not always easy to find in my life, I am filled with joy and gratitude for you and your vision, storytelling and writing. Thank you for inspiring me today and for your beautiful stories of Wyatt, Luke and Wynn and Noe, your family, your church and your way of experiencing God, Spirit, Mystery…that which is greater than us and that which sustains us, visibly and invisible. In this piece you give us all the gift of making the invisible visible and through that, we can all discover a little bit more of who we are… thanks so much.
    Missing you – and yet feeling your presence through this writing in such a sweet way… much love to you and your family!

    • Dear Mary, Oh, I can just visualize you on your porch. I can smell the moisture in the air and look out onto the lush green. As I read what you wrote, I felt us sitting together on your porch. What a gift. I love this, “…making the invisible visible and through that, we can all discover a little bit more of who we are…” I feel that invisible thread connecting the two of us across the miles. I am so deeply grateful for you, your incredible spirit, and your way of walking through this world. You never cease to inspire! ‘Til we sit on your porch (or mine!) again, my dear friend. Much love to you.

  7. I’m sure there isn’t a dry reader within ten miles of this post. As parents, we can only open the door to the possibilities, after that it is up to our children. I believe if we give them the tools they will find their voices and their path they are meant to walk, clearly yours are doing this now.. even if they moan on Sundays.

    • Dear Brenda, Love this, love this, “As parents, we can only open the door to the possibilities, after that it is up to our children. I believe if we give them the tools they will find their voices and their path they are meant to walk.” And such a gift to know Caitlin, as she explores her own voice and path. A blessing.

  8. Beautiful, Dawn. Thank you for sharing with so much of your heart.

    • Erin, so glad this spoke to your heart. Sharing our heart’s journeys is so much of why we write, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing your own heart through writing.

  9. My favorite posting thus far… Brought tears to my eyes and clarity to my soul. I’ve been pondering the “church or no church” issue as I’ve been becoming more spiritual. Nice to read what it has meant to you and your family. XOXO

    • Dear Maggie, Your favorite posting thus far…. This means especially much to me considering how deep our roots and long our shared journeys. So very grateful. Love you

  10. Reading this made me feel very good. IIt was warm and comforting feeling, sort of hot cup of tea on a cold day. I was completely captivated by the way all the different subjects were weaved in one story. It gives an answer to a very important question, and, at the same, it makes one to come up with his/her own answers, because it brings back one’s memories.
    Thank you so much

    • Dear Anna,
      A hot cup of tea on a cold day – I love that. Thank you. Yes, it is about discovering one’s own answers this mystery. How beautifully you express that. Thank you so much for joining the conversation.

  11. I am crying great big tears. Your kids remind me so much of ours — looking like they are truly suffering in the pew!
    Thank you for sharing. I am so glad you have returned home!
    Hugs, Charlotte

    • Dear Charlotte, I’ll grab some tissues out of Noe’s pocket! Thank you so very much for sharing this journey with me. Your presence and spirit have made such a difference and been such a source of light. Thank you. The kids do wear their pew-suffering on their sleeves, don’t they?! 🙂 I am so glad to have returned home! Hugs, Dawn

  12. Great article on church!!! I suppose that ceiling is southwest architecture ….pretty neat & that handsome young man!!!! Love to all, Micki

    • Dear Grandma Micki, Yes, isn’t that ceiling something? The artistry is amazing. I find myself just staring and absorbing. Love that photo of Wyatt, too. 🙂 Love you, Dawn

  13. Love it!

    Tash

  14. This is one of my favorite writings I’ve read recently. What an incredible glimpse into the heart of family and faith and the merging of the two. Thank you. You are emerging as a writer who, in my mind, has the voice and heart of Madeleine L’Engle (one of my favorite non-fiction writers) and the style and flair of Georgia O’Keefe (a fav visual artist). Simply gorgeous.

    • Jennifer, I find myself sitting here trying to think of how to appropriately thank you for the gift of what you wrote. Since I’ve been sitting here for quite a while, I think that reflects how deeply I want to express my gratitude. I also may make wallpaper out of what you wrote and paper my house! From my heart, thank you.

  15. This was a beautiful story. It is wonderful to see how God bring us joy when we love an help each other as a family. He is always with us in all moments of our life, sad and happy!! he love us with an eternal love of a Father, because we are His precious children and He has beautiful plans for each of us!!
    God is good all the time!
    God bless you and your beautiful family!!

    Thank you again for this inspiring story!

    “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid;(A) do not be discouraged,(B) for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”
    Joshua 1:9

    • Dear Edith, Wonderful to come to know you in ways that expand from teaching. Thank you for taking the time to write and share your own story. Blessings to you and your family, as well! Muchísimos abrazos, Dawn

  16. Perhaps it should have a disclaimer: Do not read at work. I probably didn’t produce the volume of tears you write of, but enough to make the remainder of the day in the office… moist! Thanks for the powerful message. I am still not signed up to attend, but hopefully will tread more lightly about making a decision about other’s church-going habits!

  17. Dawn, How beautiful this is! Reading brought tears, laughter and recognition of why our souls must have connection to a creator! You are the queen of Journaling life’s journey!

  18. I’m in tear! This is so beautiful and I’m so thankful that you are back–in all ways! Con amor, Liz

    • Dear Liz, In tears, too – both in the writing and the sharing. Thank you so much for sharing this journey in all of its chapters. I am so deeply grateful. And glad to be back! Más amor, Dawn

  19. Beautiful! I couldn’t stop reading, tho I may be a bit late for my doctor’s appointment! “ha” I’ll see you in class today… and thank you, again, for the beautiful story.

    Diane

    • Dear Diane, I am so grateful that our class brought us together. I hope you weren’t too late for your doctor’s appointment! Such a joy to write, learn, and play together! Thank you. Smiles, Dawn

  20. Dearest Dawn,
    Having known and loved you for the last eight years, having seen your beautiful kids in action and having now developed a bit of a crush on Noe, I feel I know all of you pretty well. But each time you write about your family, you are so open-hearted and true that you reveal even more… wonderful-ness is the word that pops into my head so I’m sticking with it. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    With affection and admiration,
    Liz

    • Dearest Liz,
      Oh, I love this from you. Especially because you do know our family so deeply and been such a heart companion in our journeys together, this means the world to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. Hugs from Noé! 🙂
      Much, much love,
      Dawn

  21. Beautiful!!! I laughed, I cried, and I remember it all like it was yesterday. Love you!

  22. I grew up a preacher’s kid, Dawn, so I understand the bonding that can happen in the community of church. I’m glad you have rediscovered that again and again. I have found that bonding outside the walls of a church these days, but I do know that community, no matter where we find it, is extremely important for our spiritual growth and expression. Beautifully written piece. 🙂

    Love,
    Kenna

    • Dear Kenna, And how beautiful the bonding outside the walls of a church, which you reflect in every word, image, and thought you share. Yes, community. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I hadn’t realized you grew up a preacher’s kid. Many more stories there, I know.
      Love,
      Dawn

  23. so interesting!! because when my mom says let’s go to church I do not say anything but I wonder the same: what do we g to church if we can pray at home, but you gave me good reasons!! thanks fro sharing!!!Bere Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2013 11:29:30 +0000 To: bealcivi@hotmail.com

  24. Read it sitting in my truck at Cesar Chavez just before heading in to meet my 4 year olds for the day. God…4 year olds…hmmmmm…both cannot be understood or explained….only experienced…thx. Bill

    “When you are a long way from home, for a long time, you are home…wherever you are.”

    • Dear Bill, Love, love this….”God…4 year olds…hmmmmm…both cannot be understood or explained….only experienced…” Beautiful and oh-so-wise. Thank you for sharing the magic and wisdom. Smiles, Dawn

  25. So beautiful, Wink. Thank you for this intimate look into the heart of your family. Sending much love.
    Page

    • Dear Page, Oh, thanks so much for taking the time to write. And for sharing the intimacy of your own life journeys, which so inspire and bring beauty and depth to us all. Much love, Dawn

  26. Adore this friend!

    Sent from my little device to yours

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