On Dec. 15, 2014 I sat alone at The Mill, a coffee shop less than a block from Union College’s campus. My hand cradled a hot apple cider and on the table sat a binder, a pink pen, and my laptop. As I studied for my finals, music played quietly through my headphones.
CO is carbon monoxide, C6H12O6 is gluco . . . What is this song? It’s beautiful. “To Build A Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them. Instantly, I became mesmerized, enticed to feel more than just effects of a well-recorded song, but to dive into a world built upon the artist’s intimate yearnings.
Through all six minutes, I found myself staring out the window, my mind carried away like the snow drifting through the breeze. Breathe Jill. I became unable to do anything except focus on the song’s pure simplicity.
As the last notes held my consciousness, I clicked the save button. Now I won’t forget it. I never want to forget this feeling. For a while, each time I listened, I was shocked to find myself with the overwhelming inability to focus on anything besides the song.
Months later, I mindlessly listened to my playlist as I studied. Hmmm hmm hmmmm. Wait, this is “To Build a Home.” How did I not notice? I was singing to it.
Eventually it became more difficult to focus on the song. No longer did I feel the same connection and peace. Maybe if I close my eyes. Maybe if I turn off my lights. Maybe if I go back to The Mill. But nothing could bring back the intense emotion of the first few times hearing it.
What did I do? Did I ruin it by listening too much? Did I overexpose myself? Maybe I need to find a new way to experience it. Maybe I need to let it go for a while, take a break, experience something new.
“Welcome to College View Seventh-day Adventist Church. Will those of you who are able, please join me on your knees for prayer? Dear Most Heavenly Father…”
Dull exhaustion filled my empty spiritual life. No church-going experience would bring rejuvenation to my Spirit-drained soul. There I sat, front row, second service. My bottom numbed in the pew and my soul fire flickered.
Does the pastor bore of preaching the same sermon twice? And the choir, standing up there two services in a row . . . “Please stand as we sing our closing hymn, ‘We Have This Hope,’ number 214 in your hymnal.” Though this is my favorite hymn, the “hope that burns within our hearts” had dripped out of mine. I yawned and the sanctuary swallowed the benediction. “Have a happy Sabbath!” rang the pastor.
I squinted, stepping out into drapes of orange sun that shone into my hollowness. Where was the rest, fellowship, and spiritual rejuvenation I usually found in church?
Seven days later, I rolled out of bed early and the air again smelled like Sabbath. Doxologies hallowed the morning, haystack beans soaked in the crockpot, and dress options slid off hangers into a pile on the dorm floor. I paused. After pouring a steaming cup of mint Bigelow, I spread out on my yoga mat with my Bible. My roommate left for church. I stared into bruised clouds and counted my breaths to heel clicks disappearing down the sidewalk outside my open window.
In for four, out for five. Was church not challenging or accepting/forgiving/authentic/involving enough? Was it too exclusive, old-fashioned, political? Had I forgotten the God I was taught to love and the alpine water that publicly signified my 12-year-old stand? Was I a leaving millennial?
No. I was simply pausing my customary church attendance to recenter my focus on the Holy Spirit in whom I find my identity rather than on the denomination to which I pay my tithe. Deep breath. Obsessions with ritual repetitions had begun to take the place of God. Exhale. I let go of calcifying fleshly ordinances and embraced this habit of silence, prayer, and thanksgiving.
As a divinity seeker, I regained flexibility and discipline. My lungs expanded again with the breath of God and the dismal fire of my soul was rekindled. Deep within a sanctuary where no organ played I relearned the motions of my dance with God.
A month later, I spread my toes into nylon and I didn’t miss the processional. “Good morning, Pastor. Happy Sabbath.” My front row pew was warm. The beautiful motions of Sabbath morning service were the same. Yet now they are no longer habitual but part of my praise with my church family of the God who burns within.
Jill Donald from Summit, South Dakota is a junior English language arts education major at Union College. Emily Segura from Dallas, Oregon is a junior international rescue and relief major at Union College. This story is part of a series called “Who are we?” from the February 2016 print edition of OUTLOOK, our annual special issue produced by Union College students.