“Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways.”
When I was a kid I used to play Mass in my backyard. I found the Mass so beautiful I wanted it to touch every part of my life and I did not know how else to incorporate what I saw there except to mimic it myself. I used Wonder bread, smashed and cut into circles for the host and grape juice, when we had it, for the wine. I brought linens for an altar made from a tree trunk that had fallen. In that corner of my backyard, sheltered with young trees bowing and wrapping around one another, I brought a volume from the Lives of the Saints collection we kept in the bookcase in our livingroom. The gilded title was stamped onto the spine of the black book, it felt holy to me and I read aloud the stories of the Saint Barbara and Saint Barnabas, Saint Peter, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Cecilia to the small group of neighborhood kids I’d gather by hook or crook or promises of grape juice and girl scout cookies. I’d hold my hands up, palms forward, singing the words I would hear on Sunday mornings with my family and Wednesday mornings with my classmates. The congregation would play along for a little while, holding steady until I completed the prayer and made the sign of the cross in the air, blessing the faithful.
My priest might have been horrified to know I would play Mass in my backyard, but I meant no disrespect. I think that when we imitate something, it is truly a desire to take that practice into ourselves, to capture something we are missing, something we are hungry for but cannot find on the shelf at the grocery store, on television or in a bottle- prescribed or over the counter.
It was vulnerable to be there at my home made altar, lifting wonder bread in the air, saying “take and eat” with neighbor kids shuffling in the dirt, waiting for me to finish this strange game. And as I consider it, I find a vulnerability here now, in that moment of standing together in Liturgy, opening the heart and waiting. I find each week at Liturgy the constant push and pull of fear and doubt, distraction and judgement creeping in, seeping between the verses sung out sweet and lingering, the notes still hanging in the air as I move out of that holy space into the “what’s in it for me” reasoning. I think to myself in those moments that even now, perhaps it’s the promise of grape juice and girl scout cookies that brings me to be standing there week after week, standing in the mud with my feet of clay, waiting anxiously for “take and eat.” It is that vulnerability- the open heart, the moments of fear and doubt, the take and eat, this is the point of it and perhaps whatever brought me in the door that morning has little to do with it in the end.