Sunday, January 26, 2014

In which the dividing lines are blurred

I stand outside St. Mary's and stare up at her closed wooden doors, wondering if I made a mistake.  I reach for the door handle and slowly pull, and it opens.  There is no one in sight.  Behind me, a woman is walking up the stairs, and I turn to her.

"Is this your first time?" she asks.  "Is this the bilingual mass?" I reply.  She says yes, it's in the back room, and I smile, "Then yes, it's my first time."

We introduce ourselves as we're walking through the sanctuary and stop at the fountain, dipping our fingers in holy water, our hands moving from forehead to chest, shoulder to shoulder in the sign of the cross.  "Do you speak Spanish?" she asks.

"Yes, my husband is from Mexico.  But I'm far from fluent." I pause a moment and look at her face and see, she is kind and quiet and listening.  "I'm not even Catholic," I continue, "But I love the mass.  My husband is Catholic, but we go to a Presbyterian church and to masses as we can."  

She doesn't seem put out by this news in the slightest.  "That's wonderful that you love the mass.  Where else have you gone?"

I list off a few Catholic churches and we're walking slowly, talking quickly, and I already feel welcome here.

We enter a small, simple room at the back of the sanctuary, with maybe twenty people sitting in a half circle.  I look around and see a Mexican family, several African American women, an older couple from Southeast Asia, two Caucasian women, a few others I can't place, and a white-haired Father Tony to my right.  After a few more minutes of chatting quietly, we pick up our mass for the day, English and Spanish printed side by side, and open hymnals to a bilingual song.  

I'm reading and singing in Spanish and my cheeks are stretched with a smile I can't suppress.  I can't believe I'm here, without Ricardo.  I came on my own.  My hunger carried me here.

I feel I'm enjoying a private joke through mass, envisioning myself five years ago.  If I could only see to the future then, seen myself sitting in a tiny room of strangers for a bilingual mass, I'd have thought I was crazy.  Why on earth would I do that, if not for a cultural experience?  I'd have wondered. 

And three years ago, less even, I remember telling my husband I liked going to mass, but I didn't think I could ever become Catholic. I just couldn't see it.

Here I sit, basking in the glow of change that has spread gradually across the landscape of my life, transforming tiny piece after tiny piece, until I look in the mirror and see: I am different.  Seven years ago, I was leading worship on a Pentecostal stage and dreaming of Africa; and here I am, uttering liturgies in Spanish. 

Father Tony speaks on joy, short and simple.  How we who know Christ are the ones who have continual access to joy, and it is to be shared.  Joy, the very thing I'm tasting in this moment, in this place, bubbling up in my heart. 

During the Passing of the Peace, people move from their chairs and travel the room extending hands and peace to each other.  The woman pastor who leads us in singing introduces herself to me, and my new friend says to her, "This is Amber.  She isn't Catholic, but she loves the mass.  Isn't that great?"  The woman chuckles, "Better a non-Catholic who loves the mass than a Catholic who hates it."  I laugh with her, "Yeah, that's right."  

I like these people.  I've never met Catholics like them.

We come to the part of the mass when we prepare for the Eucharist; the part I love the most, and the part that makes me feel the most out of place.  Non-Catholics aren't invited to take the bread of Christ's body or drink from the cup.  I used to fight it, going forward anyways and "pretending," but I finally settled on respecting their tradition, if not fully disagreeing.  

We're all part of the same family, I ache inward.  Why do we need this distinction, Catholic or non-Catholic, if we all love the same Christ?

For this reason, I've loved mass, but I've never felt welcomed here.  I'm an outsider, and at this part of the mass, I feel it acutely.

Father Tony lifts a cracker and prays in Spanish, then in English, and does the same with the cup of wine.  People move from their seats and begin coming forward, and I move to let my new friend pass.

She touches my shoulder, "Father invites anyone to take communion," she whispers.  "If you want, that is."  

I can't believe what I'm hearing.  "Are you sure it's ok?"

"I'm sure."  Her gaze invites me out, and I step forward to accept the bread, looking in the priest's face.  Father Tony's eyes don't flinch or waver with question.  He doesn't suspect me to be a fraud.  The woman offering me the cup of wine says to me, "The blood of Christ," with quiet affirmation.  I feel a lump in my throat as I take my seat.  

I'm not Catholic.  But I was just invited in.  Here in this room, in this mass, the lines that have been drawn so sharply are nothing but a beautiful blur of color. 

We are all family. Black, White, Asian, Latino, Catholic, Christian.  

We close the mass singing a joyful song in Spanish.  Alabare alabare alabare alabare, alabare a mi SeñorI will praise my Lord, we sing, and I belt it out.

. . . . . . . . 

Joining Heather at the EO.


  1. Amber, hardly words. This is so glorious. Your storytelling, your drawing us in, even as you explain ways you've felt on the outside. And then the joy and this welcoming…so so beautiful. I love you and this journey. It -- you inspire me.

    1. Friend, I'm so, so grateful for your presence, even when only in words, on this journey. Thank you for encouraging me on my way.