A colleague of mine, from work, recently lost her mother and the services for her were last Wednesday and Thursday. I am very fond of this co-worker and her entire family. I attended the Catholic mass on Thursday. The church is in a small farming community and I was surprised to find that the church was actually much larger than I expected, perhaps with a seating capacity of 250 or so. The acoustics were perfect for the live music that accompanied the service.
I arrived about 20 minutes early and even then it was standing room only, and that space was getting hard to find too. I positioned myself in a back corner and mentally prepared my aching knees and foot to endure the service. The service was conducted entirely in Spanish as 99% of the people attending were Spanish speakers. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with people who knew all the rituals required of the service. So here I was, standing among the mourners- all strangers to me – unable to understand the language and the messages of the priests and the speakers while not comprehending the rituals and formalities of the Catholic tradition and standing with aching knees and a heel spur that is beyond painful at times, You would think that this would be pure misery for me, but something odd happened.
Without design, I became an observer of it all. The language barrier actually allowed me to focus on the energy in the church. Not knowing the rituals, I was able to watch some of the attendees, those who seemed to use the rituals as a portal to a deeper experience more than a habitual exercise, those who truly humbled themselves, sometimes on their knees. At one point, the priest must have instructed the people to greet the people near them. Strangers began walking up to me, shaking my hand and a couple of them were so sincere, I was touched by their compassion.
As the music accompanied different portions of service, it echoed beautifully off the high ceilings and walls of Spanish architecture. It added to what felt like pulsating waves of loving energy – which seemed to be a perfect combination of the natural and supernatural. Still, I didn’t know the words of songs but I knew the lead singer was singing out of love for the mourning family and community.
I stood for an hour aware that I was experiencing something that probably was more intense simply by the fact that I was a stranger in the midst of it all. I didn’t have the habits and history of this gathering. I didn’t know their names. I didn’t understand their words. And, it freed me to just take it all in. It was beautiful and I wasn’t expectin’ that….