Monday, July 10, 2006

The Blessed Island

I—a tiny speck of a boat carried on roiling, darkening waves, held up solely by surface tension. Desperate for an island, some kind of rock outcropping unmoved by the sea.

That’s why I never pass a church without a second look.

In a sense, having grown up in a minister’s family, I was bred that way. Everything—our faith life and our social life—revolved around whichever church my dad was pastoring that year. (We moved frequently; dad was restless.)

I’ve been doing this since I can remember. For me, churches represent the same thing they did to an accused criminal under pursuit in the middle ages—a refuge. I’ve always felt more comfortable in a church than anywhere else except for my own home. Church is my second home, it seems. These are some of my favorites:

San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral seems to float atop Nob Hill, looking down on a city oblivious to its benevolent gaze.

At Mass in the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal’s chapel, I feel like an anchorite in a cell whose outer walls are lashed with wind and rain as people outside ignore the storm and go about their business.

In a nameless, abandoned country church in Jamesport, Missouri, I can almost sense traces of the worshippers that once filled the pews, nodded assent, stifled yawns, worried about crops and rain and the elections and the baby’s cough.

Walking into St. Patrick Cathedral in Manhattan, I feel like I’ve gone to sleep on a train leaving Penn Station and woken up in country heaven.

St. Joseph Melkite Greek Catholic Church stands quiet and alone in the heart of a Dominican neighborhood in Lawrence, Massachusetts, its golden domes reflecting alien light on the bodegas and Latino bakeries. Entering, the incense, icons, and strange language take me into a world of the spirit, where time has no meaning and Jesus is ever beside me and within me.

In Paris, Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre extends its arms to a teeming mass of thieves and moneychangers in the square below while I buy artists’ wares in the parabolic shadow of the cathedral.

Thick stone walls envelope me, shutting out light and the sound of passing cars speeding by a few yards away, in the chapel of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When I enter a church—any church—I leave the noise and confusion of commerce, of obligations, of self-doubt, and step onto a blessed island set in an onrushing sea.


Post a Comment

<< Home