Sunday, 23 August 2009
Church today, after a long, long time. After the past tumultuous few months, I honestly didn’t know how I would feel to walk in there again but sitting on the well-worn pews, flanked by my mother and grandmother, I suddenly felt calm and happy. There we were, 3 generations of mother and daughter, sitting together but alone with our own thoughts and it all suddenly just made me feel at home.
Religion was never something I spent a lot of time thinking about – not because I didn’t think it mattered, but because it was something that was simple to me: I believed. That was it, that was enough. I didn’t have a philosophy about it, I certainly didn’t pray endlessly but I didn’t feel bad for it either.
I think of religion as a quiet, private thing, which is why I find the more charismatic kind of church-going experience very disconcerting, although I daresay it works for some, and that’s ok. It just doesn’t feel right to me personally. I think that’s why I related to TMS’s post about TV evangelists. I don’t enjoy being preached at, but I like the idea of being guided.
That being said, I don’t know how many times a year I go to church. I’m pretty sure I can count those visits on the fingers of one hand. Still, I don’t particularly need to go to church, nor do I think of it as a measure of how good a person I am.
I watched a movie called Stigmata a few years ago and if there’s any particular theory or doctrine about religion that I hold to in an abstract sense, it’s the one in that. In the movie, it’s meant to be part of the long lost gospel of St. Mark – one that was dismissed by the Vatican as heresay because its writing basically declared the church redundant.
The Kingdom of God is inside you, and all around you, not in mansions of wood and stone. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift a stone and you will find me.
I don’t know if this story is true or not, and I’m not really interested in finding out. I just think it really means something: You don’t need a place to pray – anywhere will do. It’s the conversation that matters.
Still, that doesn’t mean I believe that there is no use for the Church. Today’s visit reminded me of that. I sat there and for the first time in months, I felt at peace. I felt like things didn’t need to be so complicated, so scary, so out-of-reach, if I just sat down for a few minutes each day and thought about it. I also realized I didn’t think enough. Mostly I fill up my time doing things that don’t allow me to really sit and sort things through. My mother has often despaired that, in all things, I am much too impatient. And she’s right. I’m too impatient for life to just happen but I don’t give enough thought to making it happen.
So today, as I half-listened to the sermon, I zoned out and thought about some important things. Maybe not important in the grand scheme of things, but important in my own small life. The one that I’m trying to live, the one that I’m trying to make work. I thought about the decisions I’ve made in the recent past. About the people I’ve hurt. About the people I’d forgotten to talk to and neglected to visit. About the myriad people that I love so very much. About the people I want to hold on to, and keep close to me, although I may not be physically close to them. About the things I may need to let go of, about old habits I may need to shed. About second chances, third chances, hundredth chances. About fixing things, about testing rusty fixtures that just need a good oiling to be able to work again, good as new. And, above all, about taking off my storybook-coloured glasses and embracing reality in all its flawed glory.
As my mind wondered, my eyes absently did the same, tracing the dust-lined drapes of the statue of Mary, the fading blood stain on Christ’s side; the light striking the sword of the armour-clad Gabriel as he crushes a serpent underfoot; sneaking glances at the faces of parishioners, very young to very old, as they bent forward in prayer; drinking in the harsh mid-morning light that streamed in, softened by heated stained glass; listening to the monotonous creakings of the old fans as they worked hard to cool the scattered, reverent audience. This may be a guilty confession but I have to admit, more than what’s actually said during church services, it’s the sensory experience of it that I love – the stillness of the building, the sound of murmured prayer, the release of a well-sung hymn. I often forget that I love it, but every time I go back, I remember again.
My thoughts seemed to free fall, coming at me all at once, but for the first time I didn’t need to hold them at bay because none of them overwhelmed me. I have a lot to do, a lot to sort out, but today it all seemed possible. Knots of emotion that I had desperately been trying to pick at these past weeks came undone effortlessly, making things seem clearer than they had in a long time.
The congregation started to pray and so did I, letting the hushed whispers fill my ears and wash over me. When the priest invited us to take communion, I walked dream-like towards the altar, still wrapped up in my experience of the place. My mother reminded me to look after my grandmother and I hurried forward to help her, and we all knelt, waiting for the bread and the wine.
The bread was rough, sticking to the roof of my mouth, but the wine washed it down easily. As I drank I realized I was parched – in many ways.
We walked out of the Church to the strains of the final hymn, hurrying to beat the lunch-time traffic on our way home. The sun was blinding as I stepped away from the cool stone of the building, but I still felt like I had new eyes. There was no epiphany today. There was no defining moment – only a little bit of clarity. Really, I was just a kid going to church for the first time in a long time and remembering that it wasn’t so bad. Even so, it inspired me, because it made me feel something I had not felt in a long time – something I didn’t know I really needed to feel:
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Monday, 24 August 2009
And just like that, everything changes, and you wonder what ‘safe’ ever meant in the first place.