I went to 5 p.m. Episcopal mass last night at Christ Church Cranbrook, less than a mile from my parent’s house in the suburbs of Detroit. It was the first time I’ve been to a service in more than three years.
The stone church on the private high school’s campus, stunning with its extraordinary high ceilings and long stained glass windows, was packed with hundreds of people including little boys in Christmas sweaters and girls in red dresses and white tights. We sat in the last pew, about 50 yards away from the pulpit, while some families stood in the back holding their children and looking on thoughtfully. The high mass was mostly sung with traditional Christmas songs — “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Away in a Manger”– and the singing was joyous.
The priest invited all people “no matter where you are in your spiritual journey” to take communion. I walked my mom up the long aisle who clung to my arm and used her cane to steady her balance. I felt serene and welcome in this church, not only because I knew the prayers and ritual by heart, but also because although I was with my family, I felt anonymous. The last time I felt so relaxed during a mass was at a Christmas eve service in Salzburg, Austria in 1998, the year my brother was teaching English in Tamsweg.
I’ve been a bit frightened of church because I have felt like it can be too cultist, too ritualistic. I don’t want to be recruited; I don’t want to be told how to think. I don’t like extremes and I get frustrated with how there is no separation, it seems, between church and state. And I, most importantly, don’t want to practice the religion I was brought up simply because it is easy.
I was baptized Episcopalian when I was 10, confirmed when I was 13. I identify with the church because it is open to women and gay people becoming priests and the church interprets the bible. Since I lived in Hong Kong in 2001, I’ve wanted to learn more about Buddhism and Taoism and other polytheistic religions. I find solace through yoga. And I love the way bestselling authors Ann Lamott (“Traveling Mercies”) and Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) approach spirituality — with humor and openness and lack of judgment.
I’m of the mindset religion and spirituality are intensely personal. Since John died, I’ve spent hours thinking about where he is, why he left so soon and why we’re here. I’m sure I’ll spend many more hours contemplating it. That’s why the way I heard spirituality described last night — as a journey — resonated with me in a way that has never resonated before.