America, June 2017, in the nave of the church from 1702, a mural of the gospel being preached to successive groups: gentiles, who look suspiciously white, Asians (an Indian woman, a Japanese woman), Africans with breasts in the fresh air, and finally Native Americans, who wear their babies on their backs and cover their breasts. I’m the white lady who showed up at random, at noon on a Tuesday. The other worshippers are casual with each other, saying hello, clasping hands.
The woman next to me opens a prayer book for me, to the Eucharist Rite One. I do not need this, but it is sweet. It reminds me of being at the monastery, where a sister usually opens my books and sets out my materials. I’m always away from the monastery long enough to forget some piece of how the books and booklets work.
It really doesn’t seem okay, me the white lady looking up at the mural of the black people kneeling around a white preacher who has brought them the light, in this black congregation.
When I first walked in, the priest was reading from Revelation.
I hate Revelation. Martin Luther and I feel it should be struck from the Bible for being full of craziness that inspires crazy people to do crazy things. It is full of magic but magic that suggests the future is something outrageous, with no basis in the past, and I hate this idea.
Luther ended up leading a split in the church, and I was sitting 1,500 miles away from most of my family and friends, so the joke’s on us.
Revelation did inspire what is possibly my favorite television show, “The Leftovers.”
And the first time I went to worship at the church I took as mine in Kansas City, I looked over and saw a stained glass window with John sitting looking back over his shoulder, with a tablet in his lap. Angels are standing on a golden staircase. At the bottom it says: “Write the things which thou has seen, and the things which are.” I am mad for this window.
We’re wandering afield, though: “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, ” Revelation 1:19.
A deceptive quote, because it continues: “The things that will be.”
I only ended up there because I had mistaken the time I was supposed to be at work. I was an hour early. My work schedule has been irregular. I realized halfway through my commute. Rather than get on the bus for the last part, I could check out that noon service at that church. I had already explored the churchyard. It had those coveted old time headstones with the heads with the winged skulls. I’m flying away, yo!
This time, not only was the red door open, I had time to go on in.
The priest reading Revelation, and five little old ladies listening, occasionally nodding. One had a purple hat with purple sequins. I tiptoed in and sat on a type of pew cushion I’ve only learned about here: velvet, hard as a rock from the weight of a million butts.
“Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are.” My eyes filled with tears. Like a good Episcopalian, I showed no emotion, just blinking quickly and knowing that something was real I had doubted.
I’ve been in deliberations about where to live, what to do next with My Life, and see, here were capital letters for me.
Although I’m a practicing Christian, I can currently only categorize what I believe in as, “capital letters.”
“Do you have any questions?” the priest said.
The ladies did not. I was sitting very quietly looking around, trying to be the most gracious guest in the history of the world. Behind me, on the back wall of the church, the one the clergy look at most, there was a painted Jesus rising and four angels on each side of him giving him support. The ceiling, between beams, was painted with shields that were symbols of the disciples, and probably other things, too, I wasn’t sure.
“We’re having a service next,” someone told me. “It’s up there. Would you like to stay?”
“Oh, yes,” I said.
I shook hands with the priest on the way up, explained I was visiting, “And I’ve always wanted to see the inside of your church,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not mine,” he said. Touche.
The ladies, and some more people who trickled in, sat in the pews up the steps up front, and we faced each other in two pews on each side. There was that crazy mural. To me it looked like one of the African ladies’ faces was at the crotch of the white priest, which was even creepier, if that’s possible.
I looked carefully at all the bare feet, of the people who were gentiles, Asian, Native American, African, and the feet were very well done. Feet are tough. The breasts were also perfectly nice, neither lurid nor prissy, just regular old nipples of people who don’t wear shirts for no particular reason, it’s just awfully warm and they don’t like that horrible bra sweat you get waiting on subway platforms when you’ve just taken a stupid shower and wonder why you bothered.
We rose when the priest came back in, wearing robes.
The ritual, exactly as it always is, speaking, listening, reading, standing, sitting.
The sermon was on St. Boniface, who spread the gospel in Germany. The church was founded in 1702, as the priest mentioned. It was founded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. All parts are foreign, aren’t they? Many parts are foreign as far as grace and mercy are concerned.
I had to sneak out at the peace. I had to go on to work.
Later I looked up the history of the church and saw they still use a chalice from 1704. I’m really kicking myself for missing communion. They might not have used it, anyway.
The things which I have seen. The things which are. I had to leave at the peace. I gathered my things, excused myself, and they got communion. My head was wavy with the feelings and ideas I’d had. I looked at my phone, my landlord had written: what about rent? I tried to pay my rent with this app I got, and the thing wouldn’t work, and I began breathing faster thinking I couldn’t pay my rent.
This is how long peace lasts and how you can’t hold onto it. The things which you have seen, the things which are, I rejiggered the app and hit buttons until it said: You paid $900. It’s okay, see? Mistakes. Rent. Things you forget about because they were so small.
My coworker pulled up and I got in her car.
The things which will be? She drove us across Queens, from Jamaica to Flushing, through its hills, raggedy commercial strips, duplexes, busses, corners.
The things which will be lunch, sitting on stools discussing Frederick Douglass and Kathy Griffin with my student. “You’ll love Zora Neale Hurston!” I told her.
The St. John window at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City is dedicated to a Mr. Alexander Butts (yep). He ran the editorial page for the Kansas City Star, sometimes wrote lay sermons for inclusion in the paper, and this is a story about him:
One of his friends could not understand his compassion for the poor, and told him at a dinner at the Kansas City Club: “Why, Butts, there is not a better dresser, a better liver, a better society man in town than you are. Look at that carnation in your buttonhole now.”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Butts, “I like the beautiful, the pleasant things of life. But I believe that everybody does, and I would like to have them all wearing carnations.”
Top image: “Knowledge of the Past is Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, by Robert Colescott, Metropolitan Museum of Art.