From Antonia ...
"The rubric," she began, using the word that Past Self unknowingly borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer itself, "pushes me out of the way. I conform to it, not it to me." She wasn't sure this explanation made anything better. "On my best days, my conscious intentions are better-shaped by the rubric than plain old me could come up with. On my worst, at least I'm sounding the words. At least I'm hearing myself say them. At least they honor Him, and inherently challenge me to live by them. They do good work on me. There's a whole range of experience within the rubric, but it also keeps me safe." She winced at the last word. Sometimes, she did miss the unbridled wildness of the past, and she also knew that Past Self would not hear it in the way she meant. She was also struck with the memory of a moment after Eucharist, and a few choice Flannery O’Connor scenes. He still breaks through. We can’t restrict squat. "The motions, the repeated words, are True. They matter."
"Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. The position of your heart is more important than the position of your body," Past Self offered scripture and platitude in the same breath. The latter was the borrowed phrase that consoled her when her arms grew tired in worship, though she still rebuked herself, isn't He worth the ache?
Present Self gave one nod as she closed her eyes. How could she explain any differently, once again, that sometimes the position of the body was strangely useful for shaping the position of the heart? That "going through the motions" simply for their own sake was a danger, true, but she also firmly believed that the motions could get you somewhere? She cleared her throat.
"Yes, but once you told me something your teacher said," though I'm sure she never meant it like this, Present Self thought, "She told you that 'it is easier to act your way into a feeling than feel your way into an action,' right?" In that instant, she remembered the white sepulchre of a podium from which the quote originated. Mercy, she prayed.
Unaware, Past Self answered carefully, "Right, but I told you that when we were talking about tithing. And it's not like it worked. For all your talk of spiritual disciplines, you're still really bad at it.
"Whoa, ouch." And she meant it. Tithing was not her strong suit, if she had one. But, then, Past Self couldn't really point fingers either. “Anyway, do you see where I’m going with this?”
Past self chewed her lip.
“Well, OK, but here’s the other thing—how accessible is all this, really? I mean, is everyone else thinking just like this? How much has to be explained to be true? And what about people who visit? Who don’t know Him at all? Are they going to get it? Or is this just one more thing to make them feel left out?”
Left out. These two cut, because that’s exactly how Present Self had felt that morning when she visited the synchronized-swimming church. She had opened the bulletin to a page full of words detailing why the closed table, why only those from that brand of faith could partake of the Body and Blood. Coming to the Table had come to be one of her favorite gifts, never before held at arm’s length away from her. After considering for a moment rebelling by receiving—who would ever know?—she decided to only accept a blessing at the rail, out of respect and the slight worry that maybe she should never have taken the Eucharist at all. She was only baptized, not confirmed.
So she spent the Liturgy of the Table praying the Eucharistic prayer halfheartedly, wondering if she could do it honestly, knowing she would not take. At the kitchen table with Past Self, she considered the elements before her, different than the ones she was denied earlier that day. She wondered if it was the same kind of left out--if the left out of confusion, of not understanding, felt the same way as she did when she dug into the kneeler after walking back from the rail, perching her elbows atop the back of the pew in front of her, pitting the knuckles of her thumbs against the ridge of her nose, trying to pray mercy, mercy, mercy, and not bitterness.
She had wondered it before.
Open O Lord, the eyes of all people…
“I don’t know,” she said quietly, ready to bear Past Self’s gloating.
She didn’t. Instead, she got up from the table, screwed the lid back onto the jar, and returned it to the refrigerator before pulling out things for dinner. As she assembled, Past Self quietly sung the first few lines of a Phil Wickham song.
Present Self recognized it right away. Something about seeing the eyes of God in the sunrise. She hummed along, deciding that it was a nice addition to the Gloria she had been fumbling through on the ride home.
Antonia is a soon-to-be-graduating senior at Baylor University, studying Great Texts of the Western Tradition, with an emphasis in constantly explaining what that means and that she doesn’t know exactly what she’ll “do” with that yet. She quotes 30 Rock excessively, gets herself into amazingly awkward situations, has a love/hate relationship with change, can often be found to setting up camp in a coffee shop, thinks ‘sarcasm’ could be the sixth Love Language, usually feels like she doesn’t know anything, and has a faith journey that seems as scattered as her thoughts, but is held together by a thread of grace. She tweets here and blogs here.