The toll of Sunday church bells clears away the fog of early morning. A zombie, wearing slept-in basketball shorts and stained T-shirt, I shuffle in flip flops to mass at the the church a block away.
I look at my feet and wonder what is happening as they take me across a hushed street, up steps and through a Spanish archway. I’m late so I crouch into the nearest seat. My interruption is covered by organ music. Maintaining my irreverence credibility I slide my butt back and forth like a toddler on a pew polished smooth by decades of pious asses.
I feel slightly dizzy–unmoored–like when I forget which direction I’m going. Can’t remember when I last attended mass and I’m unclear about what I expect. I guess something other than burrowing in a dark room for days, torturing myself over what I could have done different, how I didn’t see it coming.
This colorful, spacious church is different from the stoic, small-town brick house of prayer in which I grew up– but oh so familiar: the smells, the music, the cadence of prayers.
I like the pastor immediately. His voice makes me comfortable. It’s his last Sunday. He is retiring. He speaks easily and unsentimentally to the parishioners he’s served for 20 years about turning over his ministry to a new priest.
Having no expectations begins to feels like freedom, less self-conscious. Freedom is a new experience for me inside the formality of a Catholic Church, I realize, not listening to the lector reading from the Epistle of Paul.
Long lapsed and out of favor I ease back in my seat during the kneeling parts, still remembering the words. Comfortable with the mystery of doubt, I’m agnostic about what they profess.
I’m experiencing the beautiful buzz where holiness and heresy meet.
But like the alcohol that killed her, this high won’t last and it won’t wash away the pain..
“Who do you think I am?” Jesus asks from the Sunday reading.
I settle in. I enjoy playing amateur biblical scholar.
It’s a trick question, I interpret on the fly. The Apostles’ answers don’t matter. Jesus, a man, a teacher, a friend has done his best; he has no expectations or claim to what comes next. What they do with his teachings and his name — spread peace or wage war, open hearts or close minds– is beyond his control.
Who do you think I am? he asks, knowing what they will seek in his name: whatever they most desire.
I don’t wait around for the bread and wine forbidden to me by church law
Grace has found me.