I imagine a short survey, with only one prompt.
The directions: Read the following statement, and circle ONE of the options below, indicating your level of agreement.
“Religious faith is a waste of time.”
Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree
If I took this survey every day for a year, and answered truthfully, I think the data would look something like this:
My faith life is mostly muddling around, more apathetic than anything. I zone out at Mass, worrying about the work e-mails I have to send afterward. I lead a service trip but spend the time daydreaming about the upcoming football season. I start to pray while lying in bed at night and make it through half an “Our Father” before falling asleep.
Most days, I fake it.
Then, in a flash, I make it – for maybe 15 minutes. Who knows how. But the raw power of that tiny sliver of “Strongly Disagree” can provide enough fuel for the rest of the year.
These moments of “making it” are glimpses of God’s Kingdom, in which things like doubt and indifference fall away and the only possible response is to say, “I’m all in.”
I collect these moments like baseball cards, and keep them in a box on a sort of mental shelf. I pull them out for inspection on lazy days as reminders of why I bother showing up in the first place.
Here is one from this past summer.
In June, I led a group of six high school-aged JusticeworX participants at Enable, one of our community partners that runs a day program for adults with various disabilities. We served there for a week, playing board games, working on craft projects, having singalongs.
There’s always a dance party on Fridays at Enable, and, having served there a handful of times before, I knew the routine. Stereo on at 1:20, debriefing meeting with Enable’s volunteer coordinator Kirsten at 1:45, good-byes at 1:58, out the door at 2:00 pm.
It started just like this that Friday, and Kirsten popped her head in around 1:40 for our meeting. I got ready to corral the students, who were trying with middling success to get everyone dancing. This was a bit of a disappointment. Most of the time, almost everyone dances without much prodding. The students had done such a great job all week – overcoming Monday nerves and transforming into chatty, enthusiastic activity leaders – that I wanted their time there to end on a high note.
Then, in a last-ditch effort to save the party, the activities director set the CD to “C’mon Ride the Train,” that seven-and-a-half minute tune that has filled dance floors for 15 years. (Form a conga line. Pull down on an imaginary train whistle cord. Make a “choo choo” sound. Repeat.)
It worked. Instantly, everyone was up, snaking a line around the room. Five staff members; about 15 adults with disabilities, some with walkers, some in wheel chairs, some with no assistance; and the seven of us from JusticeworX. Folks I had never seen dance were up, with gusto. Around and around the room we went, with occasional dance solos in the center. The song ended, and was restarted. Then it was restarted again.
As I train-danced past Kirsten, about to ask if we could skip the debriefing meeting, she said, “I think it’s pretty clear how this week went.”
Choked up, I said out loud, to no one in particular, “This is what heaven is like.”
Throughout Scripture, the Kingdom of God is described over and over again as a huge party, where all are invited, no matter the walls we so often build to divide ourselves from others (see Isaiah 25, Luke 14, Matthew 22). That train dance was it, if only for a few minutes.
The song ended for the last time, and we said goodbye to our fellow riders. We were out the door 45 minutes late, which everyone noticed, but nobody asked about. There was an awareness in the minivan that something big had just happened, something beyond words. After a meaningful pause, someone broke the silence with a funny story from the afternoon, and they were off.
As I drove down Route 1, I filed the story away, and have told it several times since. The last two months have dimmed the memory, as time always does, and the details are shadows of what actually happened that afternoon. But the truth and beauty of that glimpse of heaven persist unaltered, and as I write on this quiet, average, uninspiring Monday evening, that is more than enough.