Several years ago, I lived right down the road from a Border’s bookstore. The entire chain has since gone out of business, but for a couple of years, Border’s was my church of sorts.
In my young twenties, I didn’t own a car, but lived in a pedestrian-friendly master-planned community. We had beautiful biking trails that spanned most of the town, and I used them to walk everywhere.
Near the middle of town, was a mall, with an outdoor shopping district, a Border’s, a Barne’s and Noble, and a public library, all within a mile of one another. A trolley regularly drove the entire district and took people around for free. This became my Sunday morning ritual.
I had never really been big on churchgoing. Which, seems a bit of a contradiction as I’d always been big on God. But, oddly enough, I had learned to keep the two separate. Church is run by people. People, even the most well-meaning ones, said and did stupid things. God was almighty and powerful, and transcended our ideas of church. And he never does stupid things.
Besides, church had always felt like a duty, a legalistic chore, that requires one to adhere to certain beliefs and ideas. I didn’t like that. l wanted to be a free thinker. That’s what I wanted to be remembered as—someone who thought on her own terms and wrote well about it. God was bigger than our ideas of creed and doctrine, I reasoned. And I wanted the freedom to be able to imagine it, without being influenced by other people’s ideas.
There was, however, a semi-artsy church I attended irregularly. They turned off all the overhead lights, ran colored lights on the stage, and lit candles throughout the room. They played a lot of Jesus Culture, and had their own recording studio, a full coffee shop, and had trendy couches artfully disheveled in the lobby.
The pastor wore Vans, dressed in Urban Outfitters, and dyed his increasingly salt and pepper hair. That is, until his daughter went off to college. Then I guess he decided the gig was up and he had to admit he wasn’t twenty-five anymore. But, he was super intelligent, had graduated from Duke and spoke with a meandering style of cynical and verbose wit that instantly appealed to the writer in me.
From time to time, when I would feel lost in life, I would wander in the doors, sit through a funny and engaging sermon, and feel like I had pushed a giant reset button in my mind. I would leave refreshed and good to go for another month or two.
The rest of the time, I believed in Sunday as a day of rest. I would wake up late and walk the two miles to Border’s.
I’d get a snack in the coffee shop upstairs, and then settle into the big leather chairs where I’d read until evening. I would everything. I read classics. I read young, contemporary books of poetry. I read books on art, history, and photography. I read the random bestsellers they were promoting. I read salacious chick-lit novels with stilettos on the cover. I read books by talk show hosts, and the tell-all memoirs of the girlfriends of rap stars. I read biographies of women in entertainment and internalized their success tips. I read funny books by raunchy comedians that made me laugh out loud even though their humor was clearly on the wrong side of “questionable.” Yes, in those days, Borders became my own personal library, free for the reading. A church of sorts.
After a couple of years, I got too busy and fell out of habit, and then Border’s closed down anyway. I went one last time to the liquidation sale and it felt like a grave.
The posters were all gone, and the picked over inventory was going for basically whatever last penny they could still get for it. Whole emptied sections were roped off with yellow caution tape, and even the shelves had been pre-sold. I ran into one of the cashiers and she smiled sadly.
“It’s good to see you,” she said. “None of the regulars come in anymore. They say it’s too sad.”
I looked around. “Yeah,” I said. “This is definitely sad. It was a good store. Good times.”
“Yes, it was,” she said.
I bought a few bargain basement books, took one sad look around, and walked out the door for the last time. The building sat empty for several years, until I moved away, and I have learned it has most recently turned into a Z Gallerie.
But I have found that this is what Sunday morning means to me. Not church. Potluck. Or stuffy dress clothes. But lazy restful shopping…. Reading….Sleeping in….Breakfast…
Although, my ideas on church are changing. I believe that church is good, and made of up of good people who try do their best, and fail sometimes. And, I get the idea of community—church at its finest. Like-minded people coming together to help one another do life, love, laughter and faith. I respect that, and give myself to it in a lot of ways.
But, I still believe in being a free thinker. And my heart has still never really found home. And I think it’s bigger than church. It’s a search I somehow can’t explain. There has always been a piece of me I could never quite leave anywhere. Still searching. Unfulfilled. Looking for something that only God knows what. The vagrant writer.
Bono said it best, “I believe in the kingdom come. And all the colors will bleed into one…You broke the bonds, and you loosed the chains. You carried the cross and my shame. You know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
It’s hard to find what you are looking for, when you don’t even know what it is that’s lost.
*This is the reflection behind the piece, “Thin Volume,” in my poetry book: The Lament of Captain Hook.*