Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Trying to connect

The university chapel is magnificent. When an acquaintance who is an old grad from way back heard I had a job here, the chapel was one of two buildings he wanted me to see as soon as possible. “I don’t know if you’re religious,” he said, “but if you aren’t, you will be once you see the chapel.”

Like a soaring anthem, Haydn’s Te Deum, for example, it does have that effect on me. Its beauty lifts me toward God. I am inspired by these things created by humans to glorify the Creator. (Well, OK, maybe in this case it was also intended to glorify the university; hope God doesn't mind sharing!) From the outside, the chapel doesn’t look all that big. I guess it is a little bigger than the library or the classroom buildings nearby, but when I step inside I still find my breath almost taken away by the vastness of it, the sweeping arches and stained glass reaching toward the ceiling. At 4:30 on a February afternoon the sun is low in the west and it streams through the stained glass behind the choir loft. The air moves just enough to ripple the banners that hang high above the center aisle. Their somewhat abstract pattern is meant to suggest fire and wind, and they succeed very well at that.

The side altar toward the front of the church is a little darker but its short pews and low ceiling make it seem cozy by comparison. There were six of us today, two students (a young man and a young woman), two male clergy, and two “adult” women, and so our gathering was symmetrical in a couple of ways. It was good to be there, though the time seemed to fly by before I really had a chance to make as much use of it as I had intended. They asked me to do the first reading, so I took a few minutes to look that over and then felt a little anxious waiting for things to get started. I should have stayed to sit quietly by myself for a while, but I was too self-conscious.

I like the Book of Common Prayer. It’s dignified, unlike some of the stuff they’ve stuck onto the “new” Catholic Mass. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t think it counts if it isn’t the old Tridentine Mass in Latin, but God knows we threw away some time-tested and wonderful liturgy and liturgical music and replaced it with dross. What a loss. (I know there are Episcopal traditionalists who cling to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the same reason, but not having known it, I don’t miss it.)

It was still light when the service ended, though the sun was on its way down and lights were starting to come on in the buildings I passed. It’s a quiet time on campus, when classes and business have mostly ended and those people who are still around have nowhere in particular to rush off to. When I was a college student myself, this was the time of day when I was most likely to feel homesick, but now it feels luxurious to have time to hang around. It's peaceful even at the campus center, where I stopped to try to play around with the wireless connection on my laptop. (I couldn’t help wondering as I left the chapel whether it, too, is “wireless,” or if the only non-wired connections there go straight to heaven … )

The service was peaceful, too, and I’m sure I’ll be back--and yet … and yet …

Don’t know if it’s because there’s something missing there for me, or if it was my mood, or being a little nervous about reading, or something else entirely, but I never felt I quite connected today. (Guess maybe I need that wireless connection after all … )


At 9:04 PM, Blogger Widening Circles said...

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