By nature, I am an early person...and I had the most wonderful morning this morning because of it.
After several sections of the paper, a large mugful of dark roasted Tanzanian Jubilee coffee, and a bowl of oatmeal, I headed to church for a meeting of liturgical ministers. I arrived an hour ahead of time and discovered that liturgical ministers were not the only ones meeting today. There was a retreat being set up in the Mary Chapel, there was a meeting of parents desiring baptism for their children in the West Room, and there was something going on in the dining room downstairs, affectionately known as the "Lower Church." One of the women setting up the retreat told me that my meeting was going to be in the main body of the church.
I pushed through one of the doors and came upon what felt like the simplest, grandest, surprise party. An empty church, space I know well and dearly love, lit only by the sun. For a while I sat on the steps in front of the high altar and simply drank in details I miss dwelling on each Sunday because I am ordinarily focused on the people in the pews. I noticed statues on the second tier that I had never seen--especially the one on the west side, second from the back, that was my marker of time passing as I sat in contemplation. The sunbeam coming through a stainglass window on the opposite side fell precisely on the statue and gradually moved up the pedestal, the feet, and robes, to land on the face of the prophet. I like to think he smiled on this cold winter's day.
I so enjoyed this change of perspective! I decided to take further advantage of this gift and indulge in more alterations of my usual viewing points. Coat tucked under my head, I gave in to a long held desire to lie on my back about 3/4 the way down the main aisle and gaze at the ceiling and the side arches. I wanted to take a long look at where the sound goes each Sunday. I hear and feel the sounds of Church wash over me, wash through me, there on ground level, but my ear and heart also tell me that the singing, the reading, the praying, rises. I have heard the sound that hangs above when the notes have ceased below, when the syllables have already been proclaimed, and the prayers set free. What space is it that has absorbed such praise, such petition, for more than a century? While gazing, I also noticed that all of the paintings on the ceiling are oriented to be right side up from the congregation's point of view, not from the view you'd have standing at the front looking out. I found that little detail surprisingly considerate for those whose attention tends to roam.
I have to say that I felt the most peaceful as I have felt in a while, lying there with my head nestled on my fleece, my ankles crossed, and my hands stuck in my jeans pockets.
I knew the time for my meeting was getting close and more people would be coming in...more people who may or may not quite understand why I was so very happy to by stretched out on a floor in the middle of a large, empty space. The director of music came in first. I sat up, greeted him and, so full of the joy of this gift, told him what I had been doing. He smiled and said "That's really cool."
It really was.
A church of one's own -- when it arrives unbidden it can briefly seem a mistake. But then you realize that the suddenly private space is nothing less and nothing more than another of the daily invitations to inhabit more fully the landscape of the heart.
What contours, what shapes, there are there to discover. More than I ever dreamed, friend. Thank you for being so willing to listen and read as I try to describe them.
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