I was raised Catholic. At 18 I became a charismatic/non-denominational nomad. 20 years later I am trying my Methodist on for size. I have a watercolor of Jerusalem in my office from a local artist who painted it for a Jewish prayer book. I am what you could consider a religious tradition junkie. However, despite my vast experience and research, I am not the person you want to sit by in church. I am naughty and a nun’s nightmare. (During our training for First Holy Communion, one such officious soul in a habit used her ‘clicker’ next to my ear repeatedly to get me to pay attention. I was giggling because the boy behind me kept passing gas.)
If there is a weird moment in church, I’ll notice it (or cause it). Once I was so overcome ‘by the spirit (or religious fanaticism…hard to tell) that I came to my senses under a table adorned with 3 foot high paper mache’ grapes which I thought were so funny I laughed until I lost my voice.
Lately, my favorite moments have been when I take my Father to mass. The last time I took him, a sweet soul in the front row answered every rhetorical question from the pulpit.
“We should seek Jesus with all we have,” said stately, dignified Priest Guy.
“Yes, we should,” said the sweet soul.
“Have you opened the door for the Lord? For he is knocking?”
“I’ll get right on that.”
I wanted to clap and cheer her on. Thankfully I did not.
This week, I took my Father to mass. I should have known it was going to be one of ‘those’ services as he decided to sit up front. Dad is on oxygen, can barely walk and has a broken volume sensor in his voice. It went like this.
“Daddy, how ’bout we sit here?”
“Nope, don’t want to be by those kids.” (Parents of said kids look our way as his voice echoed off the marble floors.)
“How about here?” Nope. Shuffle, walk, hack, shuffle. “Here?” Nope. Second row. Plunk down.
Behind us I could here the woman and her husband whispering.
“Should we tell her?” the woman said.
“No,” he replied.
“Really, I should tell her,” she insisted.
“No, dear, let her be,” he said.
This went on for about 3 minutes. Being the curious sort, and being in church, which somehow divinely gives me license to be a little left of center, I turn around.
“What should you tell her?” I blurt out.
“Your shirt is on backwards and inside out.”
Organ music swelled and everyone stood up. I ran to the closest door, which happens to be where the priest gets dressed. Probably the first time a bra was flashed in that room…or maybe not.
Later, as the ministers came forward to give communion to the several hundred parishioners, Dad says this in his faux-whisper.
“She should have changed out of her pajamas before coming up to the altar!”
Apparently, the lawyer in her ever-so-chic puffy pants did little for my father’s sartorial aesthetic. (In the interest of full disclosure, as she ascended the marble steps, I thought, “You go girl!” for her brave choice.)
The final moment which made my day was the choice to sing the Notre Dame fight song in homage to the members of the Notre Dame Club who were present at mass. I wanted to end it by shouting, “Touchdown!”
Another reason one should not sit by me, aside from randomly fixing my clothes and laughing inappropriately, is I sing. I can sing pretty okay. My volume is in proportion to the emotion behind the song.
This morning, I knew the songs so I sang them without reserve, without holding back, without fear. I just sang.
I sang because two of the songs were my Mother’s favorite. Along with a stubborn streak and a low tolerance for BS, my mother gave me the ability to sing. She had one of those high, lilting, whispy voices you had to lean in to fully appreciate. Her song was stilled three years ago. This morning I heard her voice, singing with mine, in my heart.
After one of those songs, my father wiped his teary eyes and said, “Beautiful! So beautiful.” He wasn’t talking about the pajama puffy pants. He was talking about me.
I’m taking that moment and folding it in my heart forever. I’ll remember the inside out shirt, the thunk of his oxygen tank on the pew and the hideous orange pants. I’ll remember his cold hand in mine as I sang. I’m sure he heard her too.
My mother and father before they got married in 1968.