I don’t like going to my grandparent’s church. I don’t like stepping toward it and catching that first cool breath under the steeple shadow. It towers over the street, a long stone-faced hall with a tower at the front. The windows are dull from the outside, muted stained colors inside stark lead lines that always give the impression of holding something in rather than giving the building room to breathe. It looks like a fortress. Stepping through the doors, though, I’ve always felt exposed.
The ceiling is too high. The walls are too far apart, and painted into fragile pieces of art that can’t be touched, so can’t hold anything out. Every line of the building is gilt and polished and carved and glorified. I walk down the aisles and feel like I’ve slipped inside a faberge egg. Every surface is painted, then hung in gold. I sit in a pew, and there is an odd impression that I have to stay still. My usual easy seat would be too rough on the redwood bench.
And I feel small.
I have never felt so small in a church. It unnerves me more than the delicacy. I know the world is a wide place, and my feet don’t even measure against its surface. I come to a church to make the world smaller, to fit into a deity’s hands who can look down to meet my eye and never lose me in a crowd.
I feel low. I don’t wear anything that shines with half the light of the nail heads on the hand rails, let alone the angel faces over my head. There isn’t a line of me that’s as graceful as the falling hood of the carved monk’s robes. But I usually feel so precious in a church: a soul breathed out of nothing we know, a body formed out of infinite star ash, a face molded and memorized by the almighty.
Every painting on the wall is, at once, too brutal and too clean. The crucifixion marches down either side of the room, a bleeding man carrying the machine of his death on his back, eyes down, mouth open in pain. But the blood only touches his face, and it runs in thin lines. His clothes still hang in those elegant arcs. The line of his spine stays straight except at those humble, rounded shoulders. Austere suffering, unlike anything I’ve known, elevated above anything I could.
I’m lonely, and weak, staring into the face of a man who was born to prove me neither.
I walk in the home of my King, and never hear the echo of his steps.
I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, Kathryn. Check out her blog tomorrow to see the original piece she wrote.