I took Rosie downtown for her martial arts class. They’re getting ready for a big demonstration, and the instructor set up a stage for them in the sanctuary of the old Methodist church. I don’t know what denomination the church is now– the Protestant churches downtown seem to shuffle denominations every so often. But the cornerstone from a hundred years ago says “Methodist.”
I haven’t been in too many Methodist churches, but I have a soft spot for them. My grandmother was a Methodist.
There’s a quaint gated community of vacation homes and hotels founded by the Methodist church, up on the shore of lake Erie by Marblehead. We used to take my Methodist grandmother up there every summer. That’s what I called “going to the beach.” My grandmother liked to sit in her wheelchair on the veranda by the pier and watch the water. Above the veranda, a great big irritating clock would chime hymns every hour.
Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword. Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy, whene’er we hear that glorious word. Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee til death.
It turns out that hymn was penned by a Catholic, but the Methodists seemed to like it. It was one of the hymns that played several times a day. I still think of it in association with Lake Eerie, grandparents, and the United Methodist church.
I sat Rosie down on a bench and waited with her, admiring the architecture. A hundred years ago they still understood how to build churches.
The walls of the church were paneled with wood– the interesting kind that gleams, not the dowdy kind. The ceiling was high, all the original beams and rafters– and somehow they’re still brown, even though most of the old wood in Steubenville buildings is black with the coal ash. You could imagine you were inside Noah’s Ark.
The windows were bright, colorful– no representations of saints, of course; only lilies, a crown, an anchor, a book. Each window was topped with an abstract rose shape, and there was another abstract rose window over the place where the crucifix and altar would be, if this were a Catholic church.
There was no altar, and no crucifix in the usual place. Rubber matting was set up on the floor for Rose’s dress rehearsal.
I did see a Catholic processional crucifix and a larger wall crucifix, both San Damiano crucifixes, discreetly hidden in a corner of the sanctuary. I suppose the Catholic Charismatic community uses them when they take over the building at 5 o’clock on Sunday nights– I’d seen their advertisement in the foyer.
You couldn’t pay me to be here on Sunday nights.
The San Damiano crucifix makes me shudder like Charismatics make me shudder. It’s one of those things that doesn’t remind me of Christ anymore, but of what is done to helpless people in His name. A lot of perfectly good Catholic devotions do that to me.
Sometimes the dungeon, fire and sword are internal. You carry them with you because abusive people put you there. And often enough, the people who did are the very people who share your faith.
It was just before six o’clock, almost time to pray the Angelus. Angelus Domine nuciabit Maria, et concepit in spiritui sancto. Ave Maria. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Ghost. Hail Mary. The church looked like it was praying its own wordless Angelus. There’s a certain time of day, at least once a day in every church the world over that has stained glass windows, when the sun is low and happens to hit it just right and the light filters through the glass and floods the room like the Holy Ghost flooding the spotless womb of Miriam. That was what was happening at this church, on this night, at almost six o’clock. And there I was standing in the middle of the womb like the infant Christ who came to be there for my sake. I, myself, a fulfillment of the message of the angel, I, myself, a part of the Kingdom of which there will be no end, a member of the Body of the Word that was Made Flesh.A friend of mine told me to say “And the Word was made flesh and dwells among us” instead of “and dwelt among us” when I pray the Angelus– because God still dwells among us.
I wonder what a Methodist would think of that whole train of thought.
When I was very little, I was terrified that the relatives on the Methodist side of my family would go to hell. That was the result of the obsessive-compulsive catechesis I received at home. I prayed for God to spare them for their terrible sin of being Protestant, and somehow received reassurance deep inside that everything would be well. I believe now that that was the Holy Ghost flooding through bad catechesis like light through a sheet of colored glass, and my spirit in the middle of my interior castle soaking it in, but at the time I didn’t know that. If I’d been old enough to know the phrase “wishful thinking,” that’s what I would have called it.
Strange how seeing something like a crucifix tucked in the corner or the sun filtering through a piece of colored glass can bring back such a flood of memories. Just then it wasn’t bad, but sometimes the same process hurts like hell.
Last Sunday, for example, at Mass, there was a kitschy stock drawing of Our Lady of Fatima in the foyer and a cliched and patronizing homily about the benefits of the Rosary. I excused myself for a long breath of fresh air in the parking lot, thinking that would take my mind off of that picture and the homily and prevent a flashback. But in the parking lot, I wandered past a car I recognized– it belonged the woman who used to be a nun, the accomplice and sole disciple of the narcissistic and abusive Charismatic religious sister who drew us into the madness of the Catholic subculture I call “Apparition Chasers” with maddening, emotionally abusive, faith-killing results. I have no contact with most of my family now, and I don’t think that will change. I miss them. That nun left a trail of abused souls of which I’m one of the mildest cases. She is in a nursing home now, but her protegee and enabler still lives in town. Her car is a patchwork of bumper stickers celebrating handguns and President Trump, and that’s where my eye was drawn. There was no way to avoid the flood of anger and fear after that.
The cry lasted longer than I expected, but I went back into church in time for the Eucharistic prayer. I didn’t exactly pray, but I bit my lip and was physically present until it was over.
I feel as if I haven’t prayed since Sunday afternoon. A Christian is always at prayer, of course, because she’s always a member of the Body of Christ. She’s always a sanctuary and her spirit is always inside; it’s only that the light doesn’t seem to come through the windows at some times of the day. But still, I don’t feel like I’ve prayed since then.
I feel as if I began to pray in the Methodist church early this evening, waiting with Rosie for her class to begin. Faith of our Fathers living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword. O how our hearts beat high with joy, whene’er we hear that glorious Word.
I feel like I could pray a little now.
And the Word was made Flesh, and dwells among us. Hail Mary.
(image via Pixabay)