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November 08, 2007


There's a lot in this post that resonates for me, as you might imagine. The moment when you felt yourself connected with all of us, whoever "we" may be; the disjunction between the evening service and the advertisements outside; that poignant number 3.

The last line of the post feels so hopeful to me, even though it comes on the heels of an articulated sense of disconnection. Maybe, as we move toward the solstice, I'm just looking for light.

Thanks for writing, Rachel, it means a lot to me, coming from someone who is more often in the "officiant" column! As I thought about it more, I realized that what felt the worst to me was the sense of being disembodied - I had become a "voice" speaking from the altar, barely even visible from the pews. There is a lectern in the front (not the pulpit, which is raised) and if I do it again, I'd much prefer to light a candle and read from there, or use the small side chapel which creates a pool of light in the cathedral as the sun goes down, and is a warm, welcoming space. I do think we can usually find the light if we look hard enough. But I'm also glad I had this experience.

I was touched by your description, Beth.

I think that what affected me was exactly the part that discouraged you -- the fact that there was almost no one there but you, the verger and God -- and there was nothing to get back from being faithful to your promise but the satisfaction of keeping it.

Holding a service for a single congregant is akin to carving a gargoyle and mounting it under the roof where no one will see it; it's an act of pure faith, and even an unbeliever like me can appreciate it. In a time when bishops are accused of pederasty and evangelists are commonly caught lining their pockets, churches survive on the small devotions of the faithful, and yours was as important as any of them.

Don't forget that you have no way of knowing what your conducting the service meant to the man out in the pews, too.

This is lovely, Beth. Thank you. Stay warm.

Peter, Ivy - thank you for your comments. I agree with you, Peter: there's no way to tell what that lone congregant was feeling or needing, or what he did or didn't get from the service. And one has to assume the best. I feel less conflicted about the experience after a few days distance from it, and more convinced that it's good that the prayers are indeed said in that place every day; I just think it would be good to offer some different kinds of prayer. I'd like to learn to chant the service, for instance. Part of why people enter churches is that most of them DO have an atmosphere that has been shaped by people praying in them for decades or even centuries, and this quiet witness to another way of being stands in stark opposition to our fast, technological, consumptive world. In the city, one can't easily go stand in a forest and be alone and quiet, so inner-city churches like mine are important oases. Some day I'll spend a whole day there and see what I can learn by quietly watching what happens.

P.S. How to do it with the most integrity, according to the shape of my own faith at the present time, is another subject entirely.

Moving, Beth, even for an old heathen such as I...

Beautiful. Reminded me very strongly of a cold day many years ago now, shortly after my own distancing from the Episcopal Church when, missing the continuity and beauty and sense of connection, I went and sat in a back pew and listened to a familiar service. There was such a strong sense of valuing what was there, and knowing I was no longer a part of it, as I had been anyway, and wishing for the more uncomplicated relationship of the past, and feeling like the anonymity I felt in that pew was both heartbreaking and more honest. It is no small relationship, to love the Church honestly.

My own travels have taken me entirely elsewhere now, but this post resonated, in the senses of connection and re-examination both. I so appreciate you writing about this with such honesty (and beauty).

Have you ever visited the Weston Priory in Weston, Vermont, Beth? Beautiful services, sung.

[Wow, this internet age: they have a website. : )]

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.