Sometimes leaving all of your visiting family at home and heading out to midnight mass is a high percentage choice.
2:00 AM. Christmas Morning.
We arrived home from the late service at St. Alban’s at the Theatre just as the rain was beginning to fall, and the thunder and lightning hailed our arrival even before the dogs started barking their greeting. (The last three words are unofficial, and I add them here simply because, to me, the fact that this church meets in a theater is somehow appropriate. Theater celebrates words, and church the Word made flesh, and yes, my metaphor needs work, but really, how lucid are YOU at this hour? And besides who’s to say a theater is any less sacred a space than the Of-the-Meadow or In-the-Woods spaces we’re accustomed to seeing?)
If I had to pick one word to describe my feeling at the end of this “midnight” mass, it would be the one I used with Mother Melanie: satisfying. Just as a really good meal leaves you neither still hungry nor over-stuffed, so, too, does a really good church service. And tonight’s service, while a little unconventional, was really good. Really…satisfying.
I think what I responded to the most were the human moments. Tonight’s service was mostly a cappella, and before the actual mass, there was a time of carol singing, led by the clergy sitting at the foot of the stage, asking for the congregation to choose the songs to be sung. (My favorites are not easily sung unless you know them – “Once in Royal David’s City,” for example – so I didn’t make suggestions – but I was silently thanking previous choir directors (Clyde Putman, Glorian Mulligan Stratton) for their attention to sight-singing and a cappella work, because while I “know” most all the songs we did tonight in the caroling and during the Eucharist, some I’d only ever sung alto on, and one was completely unfamiliar.)
But in addition to the singing, there were other human moments, like watching three young men (young enough to retain traces of childhood in their faces) singing “O Come All Ye FaithFul,” or listening to a guitar duet of “Silent Night,” or a delightful Oboe solo. Or even the moment when a phone went off and it turned out to be Mother Melanie’s own. After watching UUCOC move from a church full of such moments to one where even applause was discouraged, and people were required to “applaud” in ASL, it is these moments – spontaneous applause, appreciative chuckling, reverent irreverence – that really make a church feel comfortable to me. I like the ritual of high church, but I like the ease that comes from accepting that we are all human, all flawed.
I guess these moments sort of make me feel like God is the Ultimate Improvisor, and that when we allow ourselves to simply BE we are playing along in the grand game of “Yes, And.” (Lately, everything has come back to improv for me, which is weird, because I haven’t actually DONE any formal performances in well over a year.)
So, yes, I like this St. Alban’s-at-the-Theatre immensely. AND I got to do one of the readings tonight, which was almost like a Christmas present because I’ve always wanted to do that. AND I got to sing with Fuzzy in church tonight, which is another thing that always makes me feel grounded and centered. AND the people in this congregation are so warm, smart, funny and engaging that we hung out til one AM chatting even though we meant to linger for only a few minutes (AND they sent me home with leftover wine). AND I want to go back.
I’m never sure if God has a specific plan for me, or not. (See that bit about improv, again.) I’m still learning how to discern that still, small voice inside myself and, even more, to actually listen to it.
But as we drove home, I realized I felt completely at peace and connected with the world. True, a good part of that feeling was Christmas magic, but an equal measure was the result of feeling like I was answering a quiet call.
Whether it’s playing a specific character on stage, or feeling the click of satisfaction after mass, going with your gut instinct is usually a high percentage choice. And those human moments? They’re just another kind of Truth, and the best comedy – the best ART – always comes from a place of Truth.