An Introvert in Church

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This is the last thing I see of the outside world on the mornings I attend mass. Its size and detail are so overwhelming as to fill my entire gaze. And when I leave all I see is the city stretched out before me. An expansive view, high on the hill -it feels a bit like hovering over the streets.

To be honest, I am surprised at how much I am enjoying this morning ritual. But maybe what surprises me more is how each time I go, I expect to receive some kind of affirmation. To hear my thoughts or beliefs echoed back to me in the homily. Every. Time. And still, it has yet to happen.

 

Like today.

It was a clumsy homily based on today’s reading of Matthew 11:16-19. There were a few starts and stops, a bit of tripping over words, and it all ended rather abruptly with the suggestion that we question the path we’re on.

Most mornings I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing there. Yes, I enjoy it and something in me resonates in response to the mass. Is this the ‘right’ path? I’m still not sure. But I trust I’ve been brought here for a reason, whatever it might be.  

 

With this in mind, I came home and read 1 John even though I had read just a few days ago. It’s a letter I come back to often but somehow, until today, I had missed this: “…what we will be has not yet been revealed.” (3:2)

We are children of God and this is all we really know with any kind of certainty. And our commandment relates directly to this, the one thing He really asks of us: that we love one another, the brothers and sisters we have seen, because the One we have not seen loved us first.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I find myself during so many mornings these days, kneeling low in the company of strangers. Maybe that’s why I return even after a particularly disappointing homily, even though I know there will be that one woman who insists on shouting the hymns from the back, even if the person beside me speaks during otherwise silent prayers.

Incarnational love, it didn’t just happen once and doesn’t end at the boundaries of ourselves or circles.

Someone, I forget who, said it’s hard to be a Christian alone and I can see now how that’s true. Alone, spiritual practices can become self-indulgent; maybe not always, but sometimes. It’s easy to feel loving and peaceful when you’re praying in a quiet, empty house. It’s easier still to love those already close to you. But what that is new can be born in this closed-off loop of love?

If the lips we use to bless God must also bless each other, than this might be the most challenging spiritual practice of all for an introvert like myself. Faith will ultimately push you to the boundaries of your being and you’ll stretch and be uncomfortable. But the pain is for the growth of something good.

 

Lately I find myself smiling when I hear that off-key singing from the back. And the voice near me, whispering His name, I find myself praying for whoever it is speaking those words.

It’s not easy and some mornings I do better than others. Some mornings I just clench my jaw and wait.

But community is never exactly what you want it to be, and neither is love. Yet somehow it’s always what you need.

So I keep going back.

 

A New Old Book

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What happened to that black pew bible given to me, years ago, for my confirmation -well, I just don’t know.

The translucent pages, the carelessly scrawled “Keep the faith” on the dedication page, its imposing heft. Gone. Lost.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There were no sentiments attached or notes in margins. No history to be inherited by calling it “mine.”

 

The hot pink, paperback New Testament -also gone. All dogeared and underlined. A French translation, too, I should add. Nothing much to think about except the feeling of reading the parable of the mustard seed, which remains vivid even today. Although I couldn’t tell you what it meant to me then, oh, how I cling to it now. How with every reading something deep inside stirs and I find myself nodding “yes, yes.”

 

But this. This simple bible, no frills, not even a ribbon to mark a page, this is mine. It took a year of searching for what was lost, a year of comparing translations, a year of covertly hefting the weight in my palm in bookstores, a year of measuring for size and then measuring again. And here it is and here we are.

 

Another beginning.