Series 2002 - January
A Wise Man showed me...
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
But then, I don’t go to church. I never have.
Let me explain.
My Dad had a great influence on me. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table Saturday evening. After he said grace, vegetables and meat would be passed around and we’d prepare our plates. Sometime during the meal he’d pause and ask, “When are we going to Mass tomorrow?” The options were clear enough. Either we’d all get up in time for the 8:00 o’clock Service or we could plan to attend the 11:00 o’clock Service. In any event the Service would be Mass (that’s what I became used to, growing up as I did in the Mission Church on Paradise Row).
We’d arrive at a consensus and my parents and I would prepare our evening accordingly.
If we chose the early hour, the alarm clock would be set. He would be the first to rise and I’d see the light from the bathroom streaking across my bedroom floor as he called me. He’d be shaving. I’d be stretching. He’d call me again and I’d reluctantly leave the warmth of a night’s sleep and place bare feet tentatively on a cold floor. Brrrrr. In the winter months, it would still be dark. I’d dress quickly. There was something exciting, something mysterious about leaving home in the dark and driving through the city with the streets deserted and empty. I imagined Mary going early to the sepulchre on Easter morning. It thrilled me. I have to tell you, it thrills me still!
My Dad never asked when we were going to church. Not once. Never. In my home, we never considered going to church. What was available to us was the opportunity to make our Communion and that, I learned was an entirely different question.
On the one hand, had I been asked if I wanted to go to church I would have said no. I’d say no today. As a young child I had already picked up on the fact that a lot of mean things happen at church. As a young child I knew what it was to be snubbed. I knew when my greeting was ignored. I knew when I was over looked. I knew when I wasn’t included in a conversation along with my parents and other adults. It was in church that I had found deceit and duplicity. I knew when my feelings were hurt. And I didn’t like it one bit. I felt that I didn’t exist for others. It was like I didn’t exist at all. And that I wasn’t important.
But on the other hand going to Mass was different. In later years and in different parishes I’ve come to use other words… Communion, Eucharist… but the focus remained the same. And I knew from very early that the focus was Jesus.
Yes, I’d go to Mass. I’d go to make my Communion. I’d go to receive Jesus. Father Young was the first to place the host on my outstretched hand and declare that I was given the Body of Christ. Later in my teens, Canon Caulfeild would re-enact this liturgical gesture. In my college days it was Dean Nutter who would continue to draw my attention to the shared focus -- what had been placed and what I acknowledged and ingested -- Jesus as Bread and Wine. On Sundays now I break the bread, I lift the cup and find myself still more attracted to Jesus than church.
Prayers in the Eucharist have never excluded me as conversations in church once did and sometimes still do. I have never felt shunned in the Eucharist, but accepted, embraced and transformed. I have never felt hurt or wounded in the Eucharist, but supported and redeemed.
No, I have never gone to church. I’ve never been asked. I’ve never had to say no.
Possibly it was my Dad’s sense of intuition that led him to ask of us as a family, “When are we going to Mass tomorrow?” But it may have been less intuitive on his part than reflective of his own sensibilities. Maybe he didn’t like to go to church himself. That may have helped him frame a question in such a way that he could be honest with himself. His answer sat well with him and he set a good example for me.
Epiphany is such a season, don’t you think? It’s a season full of discovery and insight.
A wise man showed me.
Copyright © 2002 - James T. Irvine