When Dad was alive we rarely missed going to church. Even toward the end when he couldn't make it, I'd go. I'd sit in the front row, right next to the place reserved for him. [It wasn't really reserved, but pretty much everyone agreed it was Dad's seat.] Sometime in the last two and a half years I moved to the back. There was no particular reason, I just moved.
You get a whole different perspective of church from the back. You can slip in late and no one notices except Delores who stands at the door handing out bulletins and smile. I suppose you can sleep if you want, without catching the preacher's eye. And you can raise your hands in praise without others seeing you. That's not as big a problem as it once was. Before the Hispanics came, our Episcopal church was pretty staid, the prayers rote, the hymns .... well let's say they were what hymns are supposed to be - hymny.
When Fr. Miguel brought his "happy band of Christians" into our church things began to change. Slowly at first, causing a bit of grumbling. Eventually the grumblers went other places and we're left with an Anglo/Hispanic, hand-waving, praise-singing, tamborine-shaking, incense-spreading, liturgical dancing, drum-beating, music-loving, spirit-filled congregation. The service is the same. The prayers are the same. Some of the hymns are the same. But, I've got to believe God is way more impressed with our joyful noise than before.
If someone had told me years ago, when I knelt next to my mother, white gloved hands folded in prayer, and a doily on my head, that I'd turn into a hand-waver I'd have said it was not possible. Church, I thought for a long time, was about being quiet, reverent, deeply devout. I'm glad to know different.
Sitting in the back I'm able to see God in unexpected places. Like today. I watched as a father reached down, and, wiping the bangs away from her eyes, touched his daughter's head. No big deal, right? An ordinary touch that lasted maybe 30 seconds. This particular father is not a tall guy but a big one. He has muscles that would make Popeye's biceps look like a string beans. His arms strained the seam of his T-shirt. His hands looked like bear paws. In other words, he is B-I-G. His daughter is tiny by comparison. Feeling unhappy, or not-so-good, made her appear smaller than her normal self. It wasn't the touch that caught my eye, as much as the tenderness with which it was given. I won't tell you I had a holy vision, but I did feel my eyes open in a spiritual way. This may be too woo woo for you, but I imagined that large, powerful hand to be like hand of God reaching down from heaven to gently, tenderly, lovingly touch the head of one of His children. I've felt that touch on occasion.
I've often said if God wants to get my attention maybe He should write me a message in big neon letters in the sky. [I know, I know. I need to be careful what I ask for!] I've learned, instead, that Holy messages come a) when I least expect them and b) in a way I never would have guessed.
I had trouble waking up this morning. Didn't really feel like getting dressed and going to church. I slid into a pew in the back, on Hispanic time ... late. I probably should have been paying more attention to the Gospel reading today. But then I might have missed the quiet, unassuming message that I'm prideful enough to think was meant for me.
Merry, it's Me, God.
Good to see you finally made it.
Better late than never.
The "good news" is that I'm with you, wherever you are.
Especially right now. At this time. In this place.
Here's what I'd like you to do.
When you leave today, don't be afraid to touch people.
Be gentle with yourself and others.
Be tender even if you don't always feel it.
When all else fails love. Then love some more.
That's really what church is all about isn't it?
Being touched by God and carrying the majesty of that touch out into the world.
I wish for you God's hand on your shoulder.
P.S. Merry, that rainbow yesterday? That was Me too. Keep looking. You'll keep finding me.