From my second wedding–same groom
as the first. A story for another day.

The holy water font had brown cardboard over it–a haphazard lid to signal emptiness. The water had been drained from all the fonts at the church entrances but not the baptismal font. Not yet anyway; somebody said there was one baptism after Mass that morning. I saw the baby–rosy-cheeked in his mother’s arms–on my way out of church. My last Mass, maybe for all of Lent. My last time singing with the choir. I haven’t sung a note since, as if doing so would signal that this is the new normal: sad, bad impromptu soprano solos locked in my home office, dressed in my bathrobe, alone.

Gone was the singing in communion, the holy water, the hand-holding, and hand-shaking at the Sign of Peace. The next week, there would be no Mass at all. Should we shake some of our holy water around the house? My husband and I brought bottles home from Knock, Ireland, the only shrine I’ve ever visited, which we did for a day on our honeymoon, in between pubs and church ruins. We may have a bottle around still, though it might have gone moldy. We’ve been married 16 years as of yesterday. We got carry-out to celebrate, our first since we started playing keep-away from everybody we don’t live with, and it was wonderful. Every stranger-interaction–even picking up carry-out at a curb–seems imbued with a little holiness now, or grace, or gratitude in communing, however you like to see it.

Maybe I’d been spoiled by the choir voices around me, the Signs of Peace aplenty, a whole church full of, if not all friends, congregants–the whole of us choosing to be in the same place at the same time, for the same reason, more or less. I try to remember that it only takes two or three gathered in His name, but there is comfort in a crowd. In Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction, a title that just keeps feeling more and more prescient, author Nick Ripatrazone says, simply: “Catholicism is a communal faith.”

In his book of essays, Ripatrazone unveils the role of Catholic storytelling in the American literary cannon. He takes the reader from Flannery O’Connor through Andre Dubus to living writers, like Cormac McCarthy, Alice McDermott–and Phil Klay (whom I’ve yet to read)–among others. Raised on the Mass, these writers share some sensibilities: the idea of faith in community, of liturgical seasons–rituals a comfort. Says Ripatrazone, “Catholics raised on a religion of mystery, image, smell, and song are particularly vulnerable to the pull of sentimentality.” Can me sentimental then.

Another modern novelist, Ann Patchett, has credited the Catholic faith for giving her “a boundless capacity for creativity and appreciation for metaphor.” If you’ve ever stepped foot in a Catholic church you can probably see that: everything is imbued with meaning. From Ripatrazone:

Catholicism is an assault on the senses. The thickly sweet smell of incense clouding a church. A finger dipped into the holy water fount; the almost otherworldly touch of it. The feel of a back against the hard pew…The Rise and refrain of hymns…the silence of prayer…the high drama of Lent.

It all means something, more than one thing. And certainly, there’s a performance aspect to the faith that isn’t lost on this Catholic kid raised on church and ballet–pretty much in equal measure. I recently, mistakenly, called the altar “the stage,” and it’s no wonder why. There’s the Mass’s “script,” with its accompanying ritualistic movements–very much body-centered–a reverential dance of signs and postures. There are “costumes” whose colors are filled with meaning. Right now, we’re penitential purple. Are we ever.

Which might be why that piece of ordinary brown cardboard over the drained holy water font bothered me so much–the lack of performance or ritual. Or, preparation. Ritual takes preparation, and none of us had any rehearsals for the effects of this pandemic.

So, my hope today is that we all lean into the rituals that provide us some comfort and connection–even if virtual.

What are you reading? How are you dealing? What rituals are you keeping or instilling in your household as you physically distance yourself from others?

Looking for a new author to read, a poet or memoirist? Check out my handy categories above, where you’ll find my writer interviews, book reviews, essays, writing advice, and more.

Let’s connect socially: find me on FB and @MoonRuark on Twitter

31 thoughts on “A Strange Communion

  1. Terrific post – this “new normal” will take some getting used to, and more adjustments to come…will we go back to exactly as it was? Perhaps, but for now we “shelter in place” and support friends and family from a distance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never, ever have I been more thankful for blogging friends, including you, John! A new normal, indeed. Just got off a mass “Happy Birthday” singalong on Zoom. The bright side is people are getting very creative about enduring isolation and finding ways to still spread joy. I mean it sucks! But there are lessons to learn, I think. Stay safe–and keep posting delicious-looking dinners I can’t manage to create on IG!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m trying to restart some healthy habits. Running, yoga, eating vegetables. Tomorrow I’m starting a compost bin. I’m also looking into self-publishing some of my poetry, we’ll see how it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These all sound like wonderfully healthy developments. I’m impressed (says this one, who’s been having a beer with dinner)! We’re big composters around here–a great way to get a start on the summer plantings. And you know I can’t wait to hear news of your poetry. Keep us posted!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved this Becky, I too am missing the ritual of community Mass. and I’m definitely sentimental to a fault sometimes. Though I started for Lent I’ve been saying a rosary every day. New for me, prompted by my Becky. I pray this will bring the world closer, no peaceful, more loving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Joanna. I am right there with you all, in spirit–though I wish it were in person! Good for you for your rosary-praying. I held out for a long time, too, not sure why. My guys and I have been trying to say a decade a night before bed, this Lent, a little ritual of connection. A more loving world–yes, I’ll add this to my intentions. Something good’s got to come from such widespread hurt. I’ll be in touch through DM soon!

      Like

  4. You draw such a bleak picture on the world’s current circumstances I’m not an optimist but my pessimistic nature doesn’t include self-destructive thoughts. I look for the neutral plane of life to walk forward on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lisa. No church for us for a while, anyway. It’s especially tough for older family members for whom church and the related activities provide structure to their whole week. But it’s for the best–so we can all weather this storm. Stay safe and keep up the games with your boys! We just got notice about upcoming “remote instruction” from my guys’ school–and I feel the same as you, I think. This is a time to be together, not absorbed by our own screens (more than needed, anyway!).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you – rituals, even if we have to do them in an alternative way, do bring us comfort. Happy Belated Anniversary!! I hope you two got to celebrate in a special way. To answer your questions – I finished reading Ross’s The Book of Delights – you’re right it was a fun read. I then started Jesus Cow by Perry, that’s a nice diversion from the things going on in life. I’m dealing with the c-word by taking lots of long walks in the fresh air. We’re keeping the ritual of eating meals together – we’ve started to turn off the news more. Just check on stats once a day is enough. I hope you and your family are well and safe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s just what I need is a good, immersive diversion of a read! I enjoyed your post and loved the pic of your spring sunshine (36 degrees!). I’d call that wintry, but everything is relative. And you two seem to be doing well with your diet. For me, it’s easy to feel I owe it to myself to comfort-eat or indulge in sweets right about now. I could use a good walk, myself. Oh, and thank you for the anniversary wishes. We celebrated with carry-out, which was pretty exciting. I am enjoying more time with my guys, and we’re all doing our best to stay well. You do the same!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL – yes, indeed, everything is relative. 36 degrees is light coat weather for us – as long as the wind isn’t blowing. We have snow this morning. We think it is the 3rd one on the Robin’s tail. Glad to hear you had fun with carry-out meals and that your family is enjoying the time together. With your creative mind, I imagine you’re keeping the boys in learning mode while you’re at it! Stay safe and well!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi from across the street. I was raised in the Catholic Church (now Episcopalian). A therapist once noted that the Church had filled many roles in my childhood, including theater. I saw the rightness of that immediately. Thanks for this essay. Btw I’m reading The Solace of Leaving Early, and it’s gorgeous, a theological reflection or many of them in a novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Took a walk and saw your hearts posted, Cel! I love the community solidarity. So interesting what you said about the theatrical elements of the church. Who doesn’t love a good story, well played, with all the pomp? Well, lots of Christians, of course. I can understand high theater and low–it’s all reverential in its own way. Oooo, thanks for the book tip. Sounds very interesting, and thank you for stopping by my blog. I always appreciate it!

      Like

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Poppy! I guess online Mass just doesn’t give me that unbroken-continuity feel I’m seeking. It shouldn’t matter, really, to faith. But all this gives me something to work on this Lent, I suppose. Stay safe and well!

      Like

  7. Being retired with no job to worry about, no kids to have to watch 24/7, I was doing good…..then Sunday my husband got sick, was rushed into emergency surgery and I was told to go home. I cannot be with him while he is in critical condition in ICU. I have to sit at home and watch for the doctor to call. So right now I’m not doing so good with this virus!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pre-Covid-19 all I wanted to do was find some time to be alone, catch up on reading blogs and enjoy some quiet time. Now that I have all of that, all I keep thinking about is going out, seeing people again, and having kids over our house again. I hope you find comfort in the daily rituals of your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel the same way. I typically love being alone–but I don’t like to be isolated by fear. And I think you’ve hit on something else that’s important–daily rituals. I’ve had the attention span of a flea these last couple weeks. Now that I know my boys are home-schooling for the next month at least, it’s time to develop a structure and rituals that will keep us all happy. And hopefully, before too long, we can all get out and be as social as we want to be. Thanks for reading! Be well!

      Like

  9. I’ve been helping an NGO by making calls to differently abled people if they are in need of anything during lockdown and it’s been a very rewarding experience, I’m writing emails to strangers who need a boost during these times under an initiative by the Goodwill Tribe, have started cooking, blogging frequently and I am still struggling with work from home but it’s all been challenging and fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you’re making the most of this very strange time. So important to look out for others, especially those alone during lockdown. I’m going to look up the Goodwill Tribe–new to me. The school-from-home stuff is my struggle, since it’s not at all how I’d do it, if I were homeschooling. But, we’ll make it through. I too have been blogging more lately, a comfort to connect. I look forward to visiting your blog. Thank you for stopping by here and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Kanjika Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s