11th Commandment: Stop Talking

A young woman reflects on her experience as a lector in the church.

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

Elizabeth Tenety
Written by
  • Mary Cunningham

    So Elizabeth T., you are Catholic after all!The Mass has its own rhythm, even with the awkward liturgy (hopefully soon improved.) I always feel a buildup of tension, the Sanctus, then the prayers leading up to the consecration of the host, especially when the priest raises the Eucharist high..(Did you know in Elizabethan times, Catholics believed that looking at the host afforded special graces and that Catholics were called “gazers”?) Then the wait in the communion queue and my own prayers after. I love that time after communion as well.

  • Jack

    Lovely thoughts. I am an older man — married with kids and dawg — who prosecutes horrific criminal acts. Going to Mass daily at the Cathedral is an opportunity to elect your remedy: to step momentarily out of the world, withdraw slightly inward, and steep ones’ self in the majestic quiet of soaring arches and candle flames shimmering in the summer heat, with the scarlet glimmer of the sanctuary lamp which reminds us of the Real Presence. What a joy to be received in the presence of God, into the quiet and solitude, into the company of the faithful who come to daily Mass, into the readings and prayers, and to emerge refreshed and renewed with a drop of holy water clinging to the forehead upon leaving. You may feel small, Elizabeth, but you have opened your soul to the peace which was promised us, should we only be silent a moment to find it. What a joy to find it in such a “precious quiet” as you describe. Some ignorant person may decry what you have penned so eloquently. Don’t be dissuaded by those who would likely sell their souls to find the peace you have found. Best wishes. Pray without ceasing. Listen to the silence. The love of God will well up inside you like a spring of cool water. Be refreshed and at peace . . . .

  • ama

    This was a hot chat, until “Jack” got all spiritual on us.

  • halozcel

    No,Elizabeth Tenety is American after all!


    .Liz honey, didn’t you get the memo and women and the church? The Catholic Church doesn’t want your opinions and Pope Benedict would probably prefer that you keep your opinions to yourself, get married and have lots of babies. That was the NAZI plan, and let’s not forget that John Ratzinger, AKA THE POPE, was trained to be a good little NAZI.On the other hand, if you were a pre-teen boy, there are LOTS OF PRIESTS who would want to chat with you. Even if you were a young-looking in shape teen boy, you’d get more attention than you will as a woman.I think the fact that you even state an opinion shows that you are not a TRUE “Catholic” girl.Shame, shame.And, one thing I wish to clarify something — I do not hate Catholic people. In fact, I pity them. I do, however, dislike the Catholic CHURCH very much..

  • commentator

    is that you FRANK?

  • popslashgirl

    I think her point was that she was practicing to NOT have a Long Island accent when reading out loud.

  • Jack

    Jeeeezum Pete! Where DO all the frootcakes come from? What is it about the internet and an ostensibly public forum that brings out the freaks, crackpots, idiots, electronic road-ragers, and other people who have nothing to say of consequence, but who will expend hours and zillions of 1’s and 0’s of binary code to say it?Frank: Go home. You’re safe there.Robin: Please learn to read critically so that you don’t make a fool of yourself in public.PopSlash: Thank you for reading critically.Jacob: Try Paxil. Your life will be better. Trust me.

  • youngcatholicmom



    .Correction: People in Alabama DO NOT have a hillbilly accent. They have a deep South accent. People in Appalachia and bordering areas have hillbilly accents, but the term “hillbilly” is considered offensive.Robin is obviously NOT a Southerner. I have a Southern accent, but it’s not an Appalachian accent. Yankees and other ignorant people usually don’t know that there is a difference. JACK, before you call someone a fruitcake, learn how to spell FRUITCAKE. And, I can’t see where you have actually added anything useful to this conversation, FRUITCAKE. Let’s see if I read it right. You said you are someone who “who prosecutes horrific criminal acts.” Right?It’s only possible to prosecute a person. It’s impossible to prosecute an act. In your usage of the word “prosecute,” you are saying that you carry on or practice horrific criminal acts. So, I say Jack (aka Fruitcake for real), get your life together and stop prosecuting horrific criminal acts. Get a law degree and prosecute horrific criminals instead. Geez! What a fruitcake..

  • Jack

    Thank you, Elizabeth, and YoungCatholicMom:I concur with YCM. It is refreshing to read an intelligent, sensible posting by someone who can write well, who isn’t afraid to be open to her own internal dialogue, and who has the kindness to share her feelings with others. Life is a process of filtering out the static and electronic interference from others who are obstructionist, oppositional, negative, or merely sick. I’m an old guy, and have learned not to be dissuaded by the Frank’s and Jacob’s of the world who have little or nothing of value to say to anyone, or who confuse expressions of rage and confusion with intelligent conversation. For my part, my Catholic faith has sustained me in the waning years of life. You have the advantage of having recognized its value in the bloom of your youth. Hold on, don’t let go. Don’t be turned aside by the boo-birds. Tune them out. It’s the Mary’s and YCM’s who have heard your voice, and who appreciate what you’re trying to do. I did also, and think it was the innate honesty of your sharing which I found appealing, both emotionally and intellectually. Keep writing because you have a voice. For the sake of a confused world, please continue to use it. Kind regards from someone you will never meet.

  • HeyThere

    One thing about Catholics. You never have to be concerned about them mentioning the Name of Jesus. HE IS THE CENTER OF CHRISTIANITY. Sorry to disturb you Catholics, NOT the Pope.


    Oh Jack, give it a rest. O.k., we get it. You’re a great and loyal servant of God and Jesus, blah blah blah.But, in another way, you sound like a creepy old dude trying to make time with a pretty young co-ed. And, since you admitted that you prosecute “horrific criminal acts,” I don’t know what you are capable of. I was never trying to “dissuade” you from anything. YOU attacked ME first when you called me a fruitcake.Hey Jack, Lizzie, Young Catholic Mom, et. al., where in the Bible does Jesus name the Roman Catholic Church as THE ONE TRUE PLACE OF SALVATION??? When did Jesus say that the only confession that counts when you confess to a Roman Catholic priest??? (Yeah, I’ll bet those creepy pedophile priests love that belief since they get to go into a dark room with young boys on a regular basis.) When did Jesus say that pedophile Roman Catholic priests should be protected from punishment??? When did Jesus say that ONLY the Roman Catholic Pope speaks for him??? When did Jesus say that the Roman Catholic Pope is infallible???Besides, I thought George Bush and his crowd had co-opted God and Jesus back in the 80s.The Pope is a arrogant liar and a Nazi. When he claims to speak for God, he becomes a liar. He became a Nazi long long ago, and it’s evident by his teachings that his belief still burns strong.

  • Patrick

    You know why I don’t read this feature? Because it’s the biggest bunch of hateful, petty posters around.”One thing about Catholics. You never have to be concerned about them mentioning the Name of Jesus. HE IS THE CENTER OF CHRISTIANITY. Sorry to disturb you Catholics, NOT the Pope.”That’s not close to the worst.Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your thoughts with us. Thanks to those of you who just want to share your own experience.Everyone else can go to Hell — whether or not you believe in it.


    Well, of course we’ll all be going to Hell, Patty boy. We’re not Catholic, so Herr Pope says we’re doomed.Ohhhhhhh, the humanity! At least we can hang with John Ratzinger while we’re down there.

  • LI native

    Was the attack on Long Islanders and on regional dialects necessary? What, exactly, does it add to your article other than to insult those you feel are beneath you?


    Yeah, why are you dissin’ Long Islanders?Such arrogance. You college kids think you are so smart just because you were able to avoid working for the past four years. Well, get a few years of real work behind you before you try to besmirch the fine people of Long Island.Is the Washington Post paying you to look down your nose at the rest of us?

  • HeyThere

    Posted on July 13, 2007 16:09 Patrick: You proved my point.

  • Arminius

    Elizabeth,Thanks for a really good and thoughtful offering. I happen to be Episcopal, but have the same feelings about our Holy Eucharist as you do about your Mass. Tears in my eyes, many times.As for Frank and his ilk – as the old saying goes, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Their endless pseudo-intellectual flatulence is, at the end of the day, simply boring.

  • california condor

    Why does Sally Quinn’s WP initiative to host religious blogging bring out so much loghorrea, pettiness, hatefulness and crackpottery? Is this what earnest faithyness is supposed to bring? This is the question posed by several bloggers. Perhaps more of us should take to heart Thomas Merton’s example, a supremely gifted writer and speaker who for some time followed an oath of silence. Would that more of the hateful ones followed Merton’s lead into contemplation and self-examination.

  • absalom

    Dear people of faith:As a non-Catholic of indeterminate persuasion, I have been much troubled of late. The Pope has decreed that non-Catholic religions are suspect, flawed and perhaps non-Christian. I am beginning to realize that this means I am destined to burn forever in the Fiery Pit of Hell. This is causing me not only to lose sleep but to entertain doubts whether the Maker and Author of the Universe means to turn Eternity over to an eighty-year old bookish Bavarian ideologue and alumni of the Hitler Youth. My soul is full of doubt and turmoil. Please counsel me in my hour of uncertitude and shaky faithyness. Thanks./s/ Faithful up to a point.

  • california condor

    Dear “Faithful up to a point”:Be of good cheer. Know the Good News. Jesus’s message was Love. John 4:16. God is Love, whosoever Lives in Love Lives in God and God in Him. God’s love for you is endless and eternal, while the Pope’s crabbed, bookish sectarianism is narrow, divisive and false. God is boundless and outside the religiosity and conventions and rituals and dogmas and sanctimony and limited perspectives of individual men. Priests and elders and canon law can’t save you. You will not burn in the Fiery Pit because that does not exist, here or anywhere. Such fairy stories of men come and go, like “limbo”, once a Church edict, now banished. What does exist is the Kingdom of Heaven and most people’s separation from it, and it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into it. Apparently it is a state of transcendent awareness. Many are called, few are chosen. The gate is strait. The poor and the humble in spirit shall have entry, Jesus says, not the stern temple elders, the money changers, the lawgivers, the Pharisees, the elegantly dressed. richly housed, perfumed and brocaded potentates and prelates who imperfectly ape but don’t truly embody Christ’s actual teachings of universal love and forgiveness in this life, which is a gift not to be wasted on the silly stories of old men.

  • David

    Patrick,”Everyone else can go to HELL”???I guess it’s evident that catholicism doesn’t change people. Jesus did say “By their fruit you shall know them”. By telling people to go to hell, I guess you bearing thorns and weeds my friend. I’ll stick with biblical teachings instead of relying on pope benny for answers.Jesus is the way and the truth and the light. Not the pope. The pope is just some dude with a funny hat. Why should I listen to him over Jesus?


    A truly creative, and conceptual word-world artist…anI especially enjoy reading his missives out loud, whichJacob are YOU from JAMAICA…are you from Ifriqqiya?SHALOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

  • Kate from Long Island

    It just so happens I lived most of my younger life south of the Mason-Dixon, and have lived on Long Island for the past 18 years. The Long Island accent is a combination of Brooklynese, a Bronx accent, and Queens, too. I can pretty much tell the difference now. Lawnguyland is an amalgamation (sp).True story: when I first moved here, I was shopping late one evening in a clothing store, and I strained to hear the salesgirls (both high school age) conversing in what I thought was a foreign language. You guessed it! They were speaking with their “accent.” Since then, I notice that the accent is greatly diluted. And, it doesn’t sound so strange when I do hear it. As I became more familiar with local ways, I stopped asking for my bagels toasted at the deli. Furthermore, I also stopped saying “ya’ll.” It just sounded too hokey hundreds of miles from home. I miss some things about Southern living, but I also enjoy many things about living on Long Island. One thing that surprised me most was how my adopted home looks surprisingly like parts of New England in some places. And doesn’t sound like “New Yawk” at all.

  • Anonymous

    Dear “Long Island Native” and “Frank”,My understanding from this blog, and others, is that Ms. Tenety continues to struggle on a personal journey to connect to her God and her Church. She does not travel on her faith journey by sniping at others but by examining her own behavior and issues. Take note of this “Long Island Native” and “Frank”.I am not really sure, by the content of your postings, that either of you have this admirable capability.

  • BetaCatholic

    Dear “Long Island Native” and “Frank”,My understanding from this blog, and others, is that Ms. Tenety continues to struggle on a personal journey to connect to her God and her Church. She does not travel on her faith journey by sniping at others but by examining her own behavior and issues. Take note of this “Long Island Native” and “Frank”.I am not really sure, by the content of your postings, that either of you have this admirable capability.

  • Jack Reynolds

    Frank and LI native, As a Long Island native I am peronally not offended by the way Ms. Tenety presented her blog. Ms. Tenety wanted to show the rhythmn and how the dialect sounded in her church. Furthermore, You need a hobby Frank. Instead of arguing with people on a website why dont you go make a difference in the Catholic Church. If the people you are arguing with are SO inferior with their intellectual ability (their grammar) than why do you argue with them and continue to put them down? Why would you care? You seem to have very low self esteem and continue to make crude and disgusting remarks when there is no need to.

  • Bill Lang

    Elizabeth, that was a moving letter! I feel the same way during the consedration and after communion!Mary Cunningham, Jack, I’m happy to see such reverant and faithful Catholics on the forum.Frank, you’re an a**! Oh, I’m sorry, did I spell that wrong?

  • Bill Lang

    Jacob, I didn’t know you were so anti-semetic! Do you really think that Jews are behind every evil as your link that you posted says? How sad!

  • Jozefz

    Hello Bill L A N G, et al;Like I said , “For Discussion Only”. Its a link I found and I thought It Was Pertenant To Ask For “Intelligent Input/output as ome expects on WAPO!Note: I’m a “Fruit Of Israel Born via Twin” (Sabra) an Israeli born. Even Jesus [pbuh] (Yashua/Tawah) said, “I did not ask to be here.[born].” [Similar said]. Just know that I love you ALL! This is OUR Prophecy! Ya Ya,Note: I’m alittle tipsy now. So Good Night ALL, AUCH! Huggs n kisses to al da Brother(s) n Sistar(s), together Forever Mitt Source ONE! Ya!

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