With all this fuss about the new Pope, I’ve got a confession to make.
I’ve been going to church.
Not to masses per se. No, I’ve starting sitting in the front pew just thinking.
It started a couple of weeks ago when I was walking along Elizabeth Street in Melbourne and noticed the imposing church of St. Francis. I thought I’d pop in for a peek. Or a stickybeak, as they say here. Inside I found this lovely little chapel called the Ladye Chapel where a painting of the Mother and Child hangs to the left of the altar.
I tucked myself into one of the pews and looked around, mesmerized by the beauty: the rose walls, stained-glass windows, the gold swirls, all shimmering in candlelight. I soon became aware that there were many like me, sitting quietly in the darkness. More people wandered in from the hot, sunny, busy street, in cut-off shorts, in business suits, in tied-dyed halter dresses. Each one made a bee line for the painting and reached up to touch it like an icon.
I was amazed. In this crazy twenty-first century world men and women still finding comfort in a 2000 year old tradition of touching an icon.
I stopped being a Catholic long ago. I couldn’t match my feminist ideals with an institution which seemed to have no place in its headquarters for women. (Though I do recognize the lifeline the church has been for the poor.)
But I’ve always loved old churches and the scent of incense and myrrh. And I especially love the idea of Mary.
I guess I really love the idea that someone is listening.
So I sit and say “Hey, it’s me again.”
And in my mind I hear her say, “How you doing, honey?”
Because for some reason– I don’t know why– she’s got this salt of the earth accent. This Seen-it-all attitude. She’s one of those women who is so busy she’s the only one who has time to do you a favor.
I picture her with lines on her face like a seabed and crazy grey hair zinging from her halo. She’s got floppy arms and a heavy belly under that blue robe.
But mostly she has a heart so big you can take yours and tuck it inside hers with all the others who have come in to touch her picture.
And I know– (I also know some of you might disagree with this)–that my not being a practicing Catholic is OK by her. Because love, as the Church agrees, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
So I like to say hello.
And she says hello back.
I chat about my worries.
And when I finish she says, “Well, hon, I’ve heard worse.”
Of course, she says it the nicest way.
So I nod in agreement and tip toe out, trying not to bother the ones with the real problems.
photo by Dale Allman (flickr)