I can’t explain it, so maybe I shouldn’t even try. But I love trying to put words to wordless rhythms of the soul. It’s the only art I know well.
Let me start by giving you a little background: I have been a practicing Quaker for 12 years. Most people don’t know what Quakers are, because they’re a weird bunch, but they have a respectable history in Philadelphia, which is why I became fortunate enough to find my way to a meeting. (Quakers say “meeting,” not church, by the way.)
In 1600’s England, during the Protestant Reformation, Quakers became inspired to purify themselves by opening to silence, to the acknowledgment that they did not need any person to come between their hearts and God. That in fact, the reflection of God existed in every one of us, only we had been taught the opposite, that God was out there, up there, through that man at the podium. And so Quakers charted a new path where they allowed themselves to become inflamed by a new envisioning of the Holy Spirit, a power that compelled them to actions others did not like. They were persecuted for their faith, a faith that called them to disobey the status quo, man’s laws, and instead heed God. (A lot like Jesus, heh heh.) And they came to know that God did not only exist in reading scripture, because the mind who reads scripture with a closed heart only perceives God as closed, too. No, Quakers insisted that if you open yourself up, you can know God inside of you. And that deep inner knowing might lead you to do wild things for good causes, and it would also enlighten you to the beautiful light and love that surrounds you in every minute of every day.
So lately? Man, this Thing/Spirit is leading me to the Catholic church. Because the Catholic church has so much beauty. And because the Catholic church is also deeply sick.
It’s not like I want to go. I’m just called. Something comes over me and starts guiding my feet and then I slump my shoulders like a little kid who has to eat her broccoli. Okay, fine, I say. And show up. And listen for God.
Take Sunday, for example. My birthday, of all days. I went to Stonington, CT for a little getaway, and did some work in a coffee shop after taking in a foggy sunrise. And then I had every intention of going to a cute little church called United Church of Stonington which I had passed on my walk. I looked at the website. It was so cheery, so inviting. I knew I’d probably meet nice people there, and was excited to go.
And then as I walked, I heard the bells of St. Mary’s ringing, calling me home. Is it home? I don’t know what you call it. But I knew I had to go. I had to eat the broccoli, sit in the pew, see why I was supposed to be there. (Ugh.)
I began to shiver as soon as I walked in. My whole body, shivering. It was a little cold, but not that cold. And yet I couldn’t stop shivering, even though my shoulders were wrapped in my red scarf.
I shivered while one woman stood at the podium and read scripture (is that process called something?) and then shivered while another did, too. I listened to the organ and the congregants’ voices and felt soothed. There was something powerful in that singing, in the voices of men and women.
And then the guy stood in this green gown. And he read a passage from the gospel of Luke, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
There is so much you can do with this passage. So much to unpack, so much to discuss, so much to weigh and consider. There are so many times you can draw on your own experience to discuss how a situation like this came to a head.
But this guy didn’t do any of that. Cause I don’t think he knew how. I don’t know who that guy was serving, to be honest. God? Money? Or some thorny third party?
What became clear to me, as I sat through that service, was that the parishioners were actually the ones ministering to him, through their singing, through their repetition, through their presence. They were holding him up in his fallen state. Theirs were the voices of God, theirs was the body of Jesus Christ. The guy in green was the sinner who needed to be saved.
And my own grief was palpable, after listening to him speak without any conviction, without awareness, without knowing. It made sense that Jesus was in a pose of crucifixion behind him. Because I felt like one of the weeping women watching my man be crucified. (My man, being Jesus, because he treats me like a queen and shows me a love I’ve never known.)
I shivered for much of the time in that church. I wondered if there was something the Holy Spirit wanted me to do there, instead of just sit in pain. But then I realized she just wanted me to see. She wanted me to grieve. She wanted me to learn, so I can prepare a better way.
When it was time for eucharist, which I think is such a beautiful symbol of sharing in divine love, I wondered if I was to take it. Not because the church may not want me to. But because I didn’t know if I wanted to take any food blessed by that guy. I didn’t know what I’d be ingesting, whether it would be pure and organic, or poisonous. And I also had to go to the bathroom.
So I stood to walk toward the back to find a restroom, to take a breather from suffering, and there I found my respite.
A small chapel devoted to Mother Mary.
There I knelt.
There I took refuge.
For she was the comfort, like healing waters, in the midst of all that sadness.