Friday, April 07, 2006

On going to church and finding nothing there

I am so desperate for understanding these days that I've taken to parsing my experiences looking for hidden meaning in them. I've been thinking a lot recently, for example, about the "vision" I had in a prayerful moment some 25 years ago.

This is how I wrote about it at the time: "My mind does not usually turn to what I think of as traditional Christian symbols when I meditate, but several of those symbols kept popping up in different forms during worship-sharing this morning. Then I fell into a state that resembled a a trance or sleep. Just before we broke the silence to begin the workshop, I heard a voice say, "They are buoyed by the knowledge that he lived, and though he has gone away he remains with them in spirit and will come again." I do not know where it came from; it was certainly quite different from a consciously provoked or even allowed thought. Afterwards, I felt refreshed, but also surprised and grateful."

Over the years I've held onto this as a strong sign pointing me toward the Catholic church. But how then to understand that numinous experience I had in an Episcopal church a year or so ago, when the priest stood at an altar set in front of an open door on a warm spring day and raised the elements, with light streaming from the sky behind, and I was so intensely aware of the presence of God I felt almost overcome by it?

This morning I went up to Mass at the Catholic church nearby, or at least I tried to go to Mass. I had been there on Wednesday, too, responding to some tug I felt in that direction. I found it pleasant enough to be there, but was interested to notice that I didn't experience any nostalgic longing to return on a regular basis, so I was surprised to feel drawn in that direction again this morning. I drove up to church and got there a little before 8:30 a.m., the time of Mass on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (it's in the evening on Tuesday and Thursday). I was only a few minutes early so I was surprised to find only two cars in the parking lot. When I went inside, the chapel used for weekday Masses was dark and empty. I did find two people kneeling in the main church, so I went in and sat down there.

After a while the priest came out and lit the candles, which seemed to promise Mass sometime soon, but when 8:40 came and it still hadn't started, I was beginning to worry about getting to work and so I got up and left. Gradually it occurred to me that it was First Friday, when they bring all the elementary school kids over and start Mass at 9 for their benefit. I should have figured this out right away, since this has happened to me before, which is odd considering how rarely I go there.

I got to enjoy a few prayerful moments sitting quietly in church, anyway, but still I couldn't help wondering what meaning I was supposed to take from going to church and finding nothing happening there.

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