So, when I finally got home from the hospital Monday afternoon — exhausted from basically NO sleep the night before — I crashed for a few hours while “Mom” in the family of the household where I live went out with the kiddos because the littlest miss had an appointment. Lovely time for a nap. It was insanity when they got home though, as it was *one of those days*, the house is a wreck, and no one got naps. Saw the Cathedral advertising a special mass on their Facebook feed as I scrolled through, and it did not take a lot of thought to know I wanted to get the heck out of Dodge Monday night. On some level I think every week should be Holy Week if only for the opportunity to worship so much more often.
I raced downtown, of course praying all the way down…which, of course, also had me in tears. Maybe you can understand how it is to be the kind of person with whom the conversation does not normally stop at the “How are you?” / “Fine.” level. To be fair, I do pretty regularly check-in with folks via e-mail or text message or Facebook. When people I love respond to my prayer request inquiries, it’s complicated. I wouldn’t say that my friends count on me, they don’t per se, but what they count on is — as one of my very best friends, a dear prayer partner, and the only human God has graced and blessed me with the honor of walking with at the start of her jouney of faith put it the other night — a “spiritual constant.” Well “constant” is a good word for me anyway, I can be cranky sometimes, but I have a pretty even emotional keel. “Spiritually constant” is a label I will take, but it keeps my inbox full. These are not prayers on the “please pray I will do well on my board exams” kind of prayer requests. These are more along the lines of folks with crazed relatives out to kill them, people captive to eating disorders and mental illness, people with children not only far from God but sometimes in a lot of trouble and missing (and grandkids missing with them), people with struggling marriages, or friends who profoundly love Jesus and cling tightly to God but who live in living situations surrounded by profound darkness closing in on them from every side as they sit like a backstop for Christ between those they love so dearly and all the furies of hell waiting for an opportunity to unleash with power to destroy everyone and everything in their path.
When I ask: “How can I pray for you?” those are the types of answers I get. Those are the prayers that keep me in tears. I don’t care where I am anymore, but the long stretches of time spent crossing the San Fernando Valley or headed downtown seem to be a perfect opportunity to pray, as I have nothing else I “need” to be focusing on at the time. So that was Monday night just as much as it was Monday morning.So, there was not a lot of thought or intent for WHY to head downtown other than wanting to get out of the house, and worshipping God among God’s people in a beautiful sacred space seemed to be a good way to do that. If you are my friend, you understand that my default plan for “how to spend free time” includes “going to church” in some capacity and “art museums”; it does not include such typical perennial favorites as “let’s go see a movie” or “let’s stay home and watch TV” or “let’s go hang out at the mall.”
I got there barely “on time,” but “on time” just the same. I actually earned an Order of Mass from someone who decided that me singing “Church of God, Elect and Glorious” (think “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee…) with my whole heart and pulling out the stops for what my voice had to offer because Beethoven’s 9th is GLORIOUSLY in-range for my voice — and singing this while desperately trying to read the words of the hymn off her friend’s Order of Mass — meant that I wanted or needed that piece of paper more than she did.
Incidentally, I was/am blown away at the beauty of the words to “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.” Seriously. Beautiful and powerful.
I was stuck rather close to the beautiful processional in, for by the time I got there people were still flooding in and it was standing room only in a packed house in one of the largest cathedrals in the world.
That’s a moment.
It was a Chrism Mass (but what do I know of such things, I’ve never lived near the seat of an Archdiocese before…). That crowd…it was like being at a wedding full of people whose primary objective was loving Jesus and worshipping God, and whose secondary objective was sharing the joy of this in prayerful support of their fellow saints (per se, in the Protestant understanding of the word). After the processional, I was able to make my way across and up and ended up spending most of two hours ON MY KNEES behind the row if pews that mark the center aisle.
That’s not for everybody, I understand, but there is something much more intentional (and far less comfortable!) in worshipping God on your knees rather than sitting. You have to want to be there, every moment is present-tense not only for what is going on with your knees and lower back, but drawing you back into what is going on everywhere else. Kneeling through a worship service is not a spectator sport, and it would be impossible to, say, fall asleep doing it.
There was a lesson there.
I ended up not in my usual spot, but across and under St. Cecilia, St. Stephen, and St. Ignatius of Loyola (I can work with that, for nothing in the world against any of the other tapestries, I love them all, but if I have a choice for “who to sit by” in church, I pick familiar friends who, in this case, inspire me).
I was next to a girl from Reseda who sings in her church choir as much as I should sing in ours (which I would if I could reasonably make rehearsals). Our vocal range was similar, which is very fun. She was about my age, maybe a bit younger, and she and her friends were very nice; it was beautiful and fun to worship with her, singing songs (bilingual ones) that are — by now — very familiar to me.
Now, to be sure, as a resolute Protestant, in any mass there are those “yup, I don’t believe that” moments, but I am disinclined toward the notion of a “seating chart” in heaven. But apart from blessing the oils there sat hundreds of priests publically reaffirming their faith and their vows before a room of people who turned out to love and prayerfully support them. And we were also called to renew our own commitment to faith which — on your knees in a giant beautiful cathedral amid so many joyously faithful saints, standing under tapestries depicting the lives of so many who lived beautiful lives that inspire ME — was a powerful thing. There is so much that is truly beautiful wrapped up in the idea of “the communion of the saints.”
I’ve “passed through” various ecumenical places on my way to Geneva (and Calvin), as it were. I’ve been in various churches and denominations where an alter call was fairly normal, and certainly at the single Christian camp experience I had many years ago, there was the call to not just merely commitment to faith but a renewed commitment to faith. I’ve had the weird pleasure of having to really come to terms with the parameters of my own faith twice in the last seven years as I made the very public profession of faith to join two churches. Certainly most days I wake up with the attitude: “Good morning, Lord, bring it on,” but there are other moments. Occasionally there are also moments — and I know Monday night was one of them — where I am more of the mind of: “Lord, I have no idea where we are going, but before heaven — let all these people be my witnesses — I’m all-in, so, yes…bring it on, and where are we going tomorrow?”
But with an “on my knees” intentionality.
So I may not have had any deep motives for why to head to the cathedral Monday night, but God did…which became very clear to me as I — on my knees and singing my heart out — found myself amid a liturgy focused on vocation, service, and faithfulness. It was a beautiful thing.