A quarter after nine today found me in church. This is unusual as I follow no religion, and I keep a snug muzzle on my antipathy for glib scripture chasers. I am a hypocrite because I thump my own book which annoyingly angles the metaphorical mirror right back to my own character deficiencies. But I keep coming back to the Big Book of AA for the experience of knowing that I am not alone in the weirdness and intolerance of my nature. And it is suggested in said book (page 87 if anyone cares/thump, thump) that I “be quick to see where religious people are right.” So–meditate, I do; pray, I do; read, I do–but to go to church? Hmmm. Dogma grazing is not quite embraced in the houses of worship that sport names and coffers. Having some experience as a Mormon, I’m sensitive to the “us/them” mindset. Exclusivity bugs me, and while the stratified faith into which I had been baptized denied my request for excommunication, some ideas took. I visited the Boise temple somewhere in the 80’s and bought a postcard of the building with Joseph Smith’s 13 Articles of Faith printed on back. The 13th Article, which reiterates Paul’s generous charge that “we believe all things, we hope all things . . . If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” gave me freedom to dabble in good stuff. That I picked up my souvenir on the heels of a six-pack reminds me what a long, winding road it has been.
Some two decades later, I would accompany my decidedly unreligious spiritual mentor to the old stone churches and stately cathedrals of New Haven. She showed me how to quiet my mind and open up to the energy–old ancient energy of souls on the move, petitioning, thanking, searching, aching. I sat anonymously in dusky oldness–listening to sounds echoing their apology, watching the warm light from The Catholic stoniness softened by pastel saints undercast with sorrow and hunger/solemnised by doey eyed personifications I would catch tucked into corners. The flickering hope of candles glowing with ache and hope. The rotundity of the Baptist church girded with brilliant glass whose stories unfolded and changed and intensified with the sun’s angling descent. Deep rich carvings swooping wood along the pews into spirals arcs and banisters that flowered overhead like a forest/tree tops/cover
So today. My visit to Saint Francis of Assisi was in part for someone else. The dousing of Sunday perfume was not bad in the airy chapel. Stained glass high and austere in little windows dotted the plaster. Rustic chandeleirs hung still and drew the eye forward to a wooden Jesus whose right arm laid across the carved shoulders of a man who looked like he needed the support more than Jesus. ISRI?? on top of the cross like a chapter title. Sermon in brougue. And the admonishion to be authentic in our communications earthly and otherwise found a mark in me. My little sponsee wore her rosary proudly and took to the ritual reverently. It was a good thing. And I did feel the energy of souls past and present all wrapped in now. And Peace. The responsibility to bring and accept peace authentically. Seek to comfort rather than be comforted –understand rather than be understood, love than to be loved–that’s what I needed today.
It is not the material structure that commands the heart, but an opening to the collective experience of worship that I find energizng.
Two months will have passed until I again stood under the church rafters. More later