I used to be a lector at my parish on Long Island. Have you ever heard the Old Testament read with a Long Island accent? God sounds like Fran Drescher from The Nanny: “And the Lawd Gawd said ta Moses: I am the Lawd your Gawd; you shall nawt have otha Gawds befaw Me.”
Before each Sunday that I was assigned to lector, I would read the scripture commentary on that week’s passages, and pray that I, like a good student of the Franciscans, could be made an instrument of God’s peace. This preparation, however, would often collapse into a warm up for the verbal Olympics as I practiced enunciating words like Melchizedek -Mel-cheese-e-deck, over and over again. As a lector, I was able to be a woman on the altar, a woman present, but not silent. Maybe I was just trying to get my fellow parishioners comfortable with the idea.
But after several years of lectoring, I began to long for the comparative anonymity of the pews. Now, I like my homilies aggressive, and I like my God perturbed. I don’t consider mass adequate unless at one point during those fifty five minutes I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. But I found it quite difficult to pray, and lose myself in the liturgy, when I had to get up there and speak in my best God voice. I was not transcendental enough to ignore the cute guy in the third row whom I swear is giving me the eye as I read the Letter from St. Paul to the Galatians. Can’t a girl read the Word of God in peace?
I stopped lectoring and returned to the pew. What I experienced was a testament to Pope Benedict’s 2005 words on vacation, which he said helped to “refortify one’s body and spirit.” In my hiatus, it may seem that I participate less, but I experience more.
I have been granted a fresh perspective. Instead of sitting tensely, wondering if that awkward silence means that I should be up at the lectern, I now enjoy the solemnity of mass, especially the precious quiet after communion. In those moments, I often sit with my hands over my face and my head bowed. I feel pulled into this position, as if there is another being repositioning my body. And while sitting there, in churches great and small, I have felt my conscious self curl up inside my body, like a spring compressing inside a box. At once, I experience both a hollowness and a welling up of emotion.
Rumi asked: “I am so small I can barely be seen. How can this great love be inside me?” When I read those words, I knew that he too had experienced this strange power. Have you?
Image courtesy of Eric Chan