Cushion

I found it odd we all faced the same direction, where there was something pretty, yes, but not overwhelmingly so. When I had arrived, I had to fill out my name, and get instructions on where to sit, how to do.

Then I was in church again. You never thought they could take church, singing, spiritual people in the same room, but the pandemic did. Took it all.

The first lesson was God yelling at Job in the way only your dad can yell at you (and being kind of a dick about it, frankly). Then we heard some Paul, one of those Paul passages that’s like I KNOW IT’S ALL SHIT, PEOPLE… but I can make it sound pretty, and worthy. (Paul was definitely a yeller.)

Then the gospel about Jesus being like, I gotta get out of here for some self-care, taking a nap, and his friends waking him up all, do you even care? And Jesus is like, yeah, I care. Okay? Shit happens. I care. I get tired.

The priest focused on the cushion, which I loved. There musta been a cushion, that’s an unflattering detail, and one really charming aspect of our Judeo-Christian texts is that they retain unflattering details so often. Then there was talk of bad things happening to good people, and God perhaps helping people become more compassionate as a result of the shit that happens to them.

Sitting in the middle of a pew where the tape told me to sit.

Behind me, a family I remember from the before, and their two girls.

Pandemic made Christianity more like Judaism. My tradition has a strong tradition of practice out of the home, in the community. The last year and a half, home has been where I prayed, tried to observe and celebrate things, enacted some of the rituals of my tradition.

Having communion taken away, maybe the worst. For many Christians, including me, the whole purpose of church is to get the mysterious Jesus stuff. You don’t know what’s in it, but it’s good for you.

Today I went up, had the priest set a wafer in my right hand.

Our tradition is to use a common cup for wine, and we had little plastic shot glasses today, but that sure is okay with me.

When I was back at my pew, my eyes were full of tears, and I felt every cell in my body, where it was, how it was, what it was saying.

I walked past one congregant who had a plastic tube and the periodic hissing of oxygen.

I kept thinking about who was not there. I haven’t gotten deeply connected to my Lawrence church, so I just recognize a few people. But I recognized that the people there are the people who made it. Including me.

Saying all the words, the words. Apart from the confession, which I understand less and less, the tasks of the ceremony are more and more powerful to me. We hear poetry. We say poetry together. We are quiet together. We sing.

My favorite thing about this church is that it feels like a family, like, when announcements are made, things teeter on the edge… some people may talk too long, someone may say something that is wrong, it feels like the people are the church, and the church is a marching band on a bus to a competition and some people forgot deodorant and others are nauseous and others are full of glee.

It was a bodily experience, though we waved and gave peace signs, rather than handshakes.

It’s hard not to shake the priest’s hand at the end of the service.

I had revisited one of my favorite religious thoughts, stemming from the time I told my sister that Jesus would be at church that day. “Or he definitely won’t be, if that sounds scary,” I said. “Whatever you prefer.”

I remembered how strange I find this whole thing. The stories I feel very loyal to. The idea of a person being so loving nothing could destroy that love, good idea. Traditions for milestones and rituals that support humans, good.

I sang the doxology in church for the first time in a year and a half. And we ended with “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which I would call, “For Those In Peril on the Sea.” I think the main purpose of church is to sing. I struggle with many decisions the church makes, many, many actions of its followers, particularly anyone who is somehow Christian and a Trump supporter. But it felt so beautiful to sing with an organ, its sound waves living and moving all the wooden timbers of the roof, the pews, the way a wooden church lives.

I don’t know where we are going (or even where I am going), but this poetry is a welcome point of focus: “peril,” “bidd’st,” “forevermore,” “brethren,” “rock and tempest/fire and foe,” “its own appointed limits keep.” Words and phrases we now save for the biggest moments, for talking about what we wear, what we carry, from thousands of years of ancestors, stories and rituals that they gave us, when they can’t give us anything else.

Image: Eucharistic dove, French, ca. 1215-35, Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to their description, “This dove would have hung over an altar as an evocation of the Holy Spirit. A tear-shaped door on its back conceals a small cavity once used to hold the bread of the Eucharist. Though many textual sources mention gold and silver doves, suggesting these materials were part of the standard liturgical furnishings for churches and communities that could afford them, few examples survive. “

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