Mass Hysteria 

Fabric from an old dress.

I haven’t been to church for a while, and the few recent times have been for solemn services. This Sunday, though, was to celebrate a small friend’s First Holy Communion. It was quite the spectacle. I hadn’t been to a full on social media mass before. And let me tell you, it was quite something.

Each child walked the aisle solo, the next one not to follow until the consecrated bread and wine were downed. There was a literal wall–three deep–of moms, dads, aunts, sibs, godmothers and other amatuer photographers stacked to the right of the altar. Most were filming on their phones. You could tell it wasn’t still photography by the way they held the phone sideways and circled it as if they were casting a spell on the children winding around the pews. I hope that they captured the kids as they hesitantly tasted the wine for the first time and scrunched up their noses and puckered their mouths and maybe even gagged. There was also tagging and filter-adding.  I hope there’s a hashtag, #firstcommunionsofinstagram.

I haven’t been to church for a while, but some things remain the same. Like the priest who has the worst flow I have ever heard. Think of your grandma or her sister rapping, if that would be bad, this guy is worse.

There is a Catholic tradition of chanting and sing-song prayer from the celebrant. There is a rhythm. The fact that the words are less important than the cadence doesn’t usually distract from understanding what’s said. This priest, though, has no pattern, rhyme or reason in his warble. I couldn’t understand his odd and random inflection–both tempo and tone. It was as if he was reading a language that he himself didn’t comprehend and was enunciating sounds that could be words–but he’s not sure. He might as well be speaking Latin. I don’t think he was.

I haven’t been to church for a while, but stepping into the sanctuary I was reminded of being part of this community. This very church community. I walked down that long, long aisle on the arm of my father. We pushed the double doors open with a great flourish and grinned like goofs as we swaggered past friends and family until he kissed me and I joined my partner. There were baptisms and communions and confirmations for my own boys. In between those sacraments, we would spend our Sunday mornings on the left side, toward the front, singing along with the choir.

There may have been an inebriated Midnight Mass or two, Christmas pageants and fellowship–which was code for donuts. We would wish each other peace and hold hands across that long, long aisle during prayer. As a not-so-great Catholic, I was there for the sharing and to scrape out some grace for the week. My typical prayer was for patience.

I haven’t been to church for a while. When my dad died, I stopped. I tried. The first time, when the choir sang a song from his services, I fought back tears. I clamped down on those raw, sad feelings. The next few times were no better. It might be a reading, a song, a prayer or the ringing of the bell that would crush my heart. I couldn’t think about the readings or the prayers or the songs without sorrow seeping from my eyes. My only solution was to think of something else, like snow if it was summer or a crab feast if it was winter.

It pulled me away from the fellowship of Sundays. Spending the time thinking about a shopping list or the agenda for a Monday meeting separated me from the community. That made me sad, and destroyed the value of going. But, if I didn’t keep the lid on my sorrow–the sorrow that was triggered by the going–I would expose what I wanted to keep to myself. I don’t want to share grief. It’s mine to take out when I feel that I can.

So, I haven’t been to church in a while, but I went today. It was chilly and rainy. I chose it to be spring, so I pulled out a dress with blue flowers. As I put it on, I realized that I wore this dress to The Big Guy’s First Holy Communion a long time ago. I went a bit late. I held my umbrella high and walked more around than through the puddles. I was surprised that, in the back of my mind, I was hoping for peace.

When I walked into the church vestibule, I felt the burden of sad. I sat in my old spot on the left side. I saw my friends and their families. I listened to the jarring and discordant priest. It was so unpleasant that I was distracted and almost angry. I tried to block the sound and just focus on the words and take meaning from them. The tears leaked out. I thought about barbeque or one of the President’s jokes about Congress. The water subsided. It was an uneasy peace. It doesn’t get easier, at least not yet.

Golf Service

East Potomac golf course from the "clubhouse" on a typically beautiful day. 254 weeks ago.

There are places that are more than a whereabout. Some places are memories or markers or junctures or triggers.

The ancient and huge porch at East Potomac Park is not a place of thought. It is a place of is. I sit at the more yellow than orange but almost brown recycled composite plastic picnic table and look at all the green in front of me until it shifts to a glowing cerulean. It’s late afternoon glow.

My back is to the clubhouse and grill. Two imposing pillars, like ancient cement deities from a long forgotten story, frame the scene in front of me. The first hole on the red course is on the left, where people without either time or skill play. On the right is the sixth or seventh hole on the Blue course. I am not sure since this is a course that real golfers play. It’s a full eighteen holes. I usually play the course for the skilless or, when I’m feeling cocky, I fail more fully on the 9-hole White course.

Yes, there are three courses and they are red, white and blue. On the fifth hole on the red course, you can drive right to the Washington Monument. Well, at least in that direction. It’s Washington, D.C., urban golf.

The sun forced itself into my coarsely green-painted wooden stall as I swing through my Sunday rosary. I set up mysteries of five balls. These are glorious mysteries. I concentrate on the invocation and the alignment. I swing with fervor and sometimes even abandon. I flail and fail. I work on grace as I set the next five. The sun advances into my cave, lighting it up and heating it up. I step into the sunny stream, condensation on my skin.

I use the same club for this entire service. I concentrate on keeping my left shoulder down and rotating from my core. I focus, too, on how I intertwine my hands and how I hinge my right wrist. I shut down other distractions to deliberate on these few efforts. I try to repeat when I swing well, and adjust when I swing less well. I am not frustrated. I am at peace.

I return to the big porch guarded by the forgotten gods. I’m filled with contentment and joy. A bird sits on my table and I toss her a french fry, sharing my treasure and pleasure in the day. Blessings.