Sunday, May 16, 2010

ascension day in erin prairie

for several years I've passed a little catholic church out in the boonies of erin prairie, wisconsin, on my way to new richmond and decided that today I'd attend mass there. I arrived early, hoping to find a seat near a window so I could look out at the surrounding expanse. erin prairie is pretty out there, even for being on the rim, and the church is set in the middle of fields where the wind blows desolately, and from the hill the church is on you could be looking out at nebraska, circa 1940. but all the windows were ornamented and let in beautiful spoltches of colored light that played along the rows of parishioners, but let nothing, not even furtive gazes, out.

I thought at first that these folk might give the unitarians a run for showing up after service began, but almost all of them walked in between 10:55 and 10:58. a veritable wash of people. many of the older men looked like retired or still practicing farmers, all swinging gaits and sunburned faces that end abruptly where the brim of a seed cap would start, which is what I expected. but there were also more middle-aged and younger people and most of them looked like middle management or insurance agents. in the end, about 125 adults were settled in the pews and the opening commenter made a reference to the church "looking empty" because of fishing opener.

jann, my worship teacher, often talked about worshipping in "liminal time," and how this was accomplished by making no reference to what day it was or what time of day, setting up the time outside time for worship. but every speaker at st. patrick's said "good morning" at the start of his or her function, including the priest. there were great swatches of silence between songs and elements, but they were intentional silences interrupted consistently by the sound of children. they certainly suffer the little children--not a minute went by without at least one and often three and four kids called out inappropriately to a parent or another kid. I often had to strain to hear the speakers even though they were amplified and it looked as if others had that issue too. hand-made celtic rosaries were distributed to the first communicants and I found myself coveting them: they looked simultaneously fragile and chunky, like spun sugar necklaces.

the reader, who read as if he'd never seen the text before, nonetheless sat confidently and calmly in his pew between his functions, his arm affectionately around a woman who was probably his wife, and another woman rocked her child to each hymn. these were homely, gentle scenes that comforted me. the thesis statement of the priest's ten minute sermon focusing on this feast day of the ascension was "jesus will not leave us alone," and in my serenity, smelling no incense but old timber and dust, I could believe it. even the happy-clappy singsong of the lord's prayer near the end could not dissolve that sensation and I left feeling relaxed and right.

a further note: I took communion because I do that when I am invited, and my provider turned out to be a young man the priest introduced at the end as a seminarian from st. paul's. he looked in his mid-20s, but when I walked out and he was standing at the steps shaking hands, I realized when I took his that he was more like 17. I said, "I'm a seminarian too, but not xian," and he looked at me as if such a thing were impossible, as if I was an entirely new species that had lifted onto its hind legs and brayed in his face. it was only later when j pointed it out that I realized he was probably reacting to my having accepted the host and wondering why I would do that. the truth of course is that I do anything religious that I can do--nothing spiritual is alien to me.

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