The Kneeler and the Rock Slab

By Kate Lucas

I just finished reading the essay collection this afternoon. I’m a bit sad to finish it; the book had become an edifying dinner companion over the past month. It was wonderful to share my table with the voices of so many thoughtful, articulate, and diverse women. I was especially taken by the echoes in many of our perspectives, and also the departures, the unique ways in which each of our spiritualities has manifested. One such departure, at least from my own experience, came when reading about some authors’ mystical, visceral experiences of God through Mass, Eucharist, or even simply kneeling in prayer.

Monica Hammer wrote of sensing “a powerful, potent force all around and most especially above me. It pressed down on me like a heavy fog, and I wanted it to infuse me. I found my head bent down almost perpendicular to the floor, and my body filled with a kind of electrical peace” (102). Rebecca Lynne-Fullan described not being able to get up off her knees after her First Communion: “I clung to the hand of our family friend Sister Barbara, feeling like some kind of beautiful fireworks had deigned to go off inside my eight-year-old chest” (219). I was particularly drawn to these accounts, because they are so very different from my own experience of the sacraments.

As I wrote in my piece, I tried to feel inspired at my First Communion but mostly felt awkward in my scratchy white dress and veil, hyperaware of all the people watching, worried I would do something wrong. For me, my most profound moments in childhood occurred high up in a tree, looking at eagles floating over the Minnesota river valley. Or out on a rock slab warmed by the sun, my thoughts drowned out by the roar of water crashing against the Lake Superior shore. Or hiking in the woods to a canyon of water tumbling 100 feet below, sitting to sketch the elegant arc of a bridge stretching over it along with a cathedral of birch and pine.

So what should I make of the flatness I have felt in traditional sacraments and the potent, dizzying energy I feel in the natural world? For Monica and Rebecca, those moments of wonder and grace in the Church seemed so natural, intrinsic. That’s how my moments in the natural world are. To be fair, in my young adult life I have had somewhat kindred moments in Catholic settings: immense tranquility while listening to the chanting of Cistercian monks; a visit of lightness and openness during Center Prayer; a moment of exquisite beauty and transcendence while singing a complex mass arrangement with 60 fellow choir members. But these things aren’t as readily available, nor as personal and unadulterated, as those moments in the natural world, and I’m not quite sure where this leaves me in terms of my Catholic identity.

For now, I think I’ll steady myself with the lyrics of a song that wove its way into the final poem in my essay: “All the ends of the earth / have seen the power of God.”

Kate Lucas is a writer in Minneapolis, MN. She eagerly awaits her next trip to Lake Superior, coming up at the end of this month

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One Response

  1. Amen, Kate! I’m with you on that post. Thanks for sharing your reflections. Music is, to me, the most powerful part of the church service, above all of the words, rituals, etc. I think I relate to good music the way I relate to nature. I would love to hear more from you about what keeps you going to church and staying involved.

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