Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Transcendental Etude II

When she'd first made the physical leap across the church threshold three weeks past, the first thing she'd encountered beneath the vaulted ceilings and towering stained glass was a violist, beautiful, blond, wearing a severe black dress, and playing the prelude: a Bach solo concerto. It was a breathtaking welcome.

True, in the back of the church the usher and a parishioner had chatted through the whole thing as if elevator muzak, and not the musical translation of the deepest movements of the human spirit filled the air. Nonetheless, she'd found it splendid, and unexpected.

As unexpected (after 19 years of teetotaling) as the fume of communion wine, sipped from the common chalice, on her tongue. This is my blood. It seemed to fill her whole head, volatile, inspiriting, nothing like the Congregational glass thimblesful of Welches grape juice she remembered from her youth. The wafer was familiar from the unleavened oblongs of Lithuanian aplatki her Catholic relatives used to bring to Easter dinner. Yet she'd fumbled, graceless, untutored, getting it from palm to mouth. This is my body .

What does it mean to be part of the mystical body of Christ ?

She chose a different threshold the next time. Not the beautiful, pale stone Cathedral in the neighboring, affluent community, but the dark stone and shingle church in her own hometown, an aging, multicultural, post-industrial city.

The church was dark, a severe and sorrowful dark, and on the empty side; the rainy morning's light barely made it through the stained glass. The sanctuary was chilly, and candle-scented. The prelude was Bach again, on the organ. A toddler fussed incessantly, antiphonal to the prayers and homily. She juggled bulletin, prayerbook and hymnal, a liturgical klutz, watching her annoyance arise and letting it go, a perfect counterpoint to the prayer against a hardened heart .

What is the mystical body of Christ ?

The frail and stooped elder beside her at the altar rail, the gleeful toddler running down the aisle in her stiff Sunday shoes, the minister whose grave eyes sought hers, the smiling woman who extended a hand to her at the exchange of peace, the man who wished her Happy Mother's Day as they filed out.

Ordinary. Extraordinary.