It was a Saturday night in the city. A chill in the air because it was February but not enough to keep people from being out and about. Maybe the city never really sleeps. I don’t know.
We hustled against the chill, the sun already setting. Warmth waited behind the heavy wooden doors. My husband questioned whether we should use these doors to enter a church we’d never been to, but I figured if they were unlocked, they were meant to be used. I might have been mistaken. The moment we stepped inside, attention was on us and we were directed to the sanctuary. We felt no shame, only inclusion.
This was an old church in the heart of the city, one we’d only ever seen from outside. So, to find it as beautiful on the inside as out was no real surprise. But some of the walls glowed purple with light. We walked the main aisle to a pew with a door on the aisle side. Foreign territory for our open pew practices in other churches. I have no vocabulary for the proper names of the fixtures of this church. Maybe it is time to learn.
We fidgeted a bit in our seats that were less than comfortable for a family of four. My legs barely touched the ground. We sat towards the middle of the room and soon the pews all around were filling up. Was this normal for a Saturday night, or did the musical selections have something to do with it?
The musicians opened the gathering with two songs from the band Coldplay. The whole service would be filled with their music, and it was the main reason we had come. I had to see and hear for myself how a church with ancient liturgical traditions incorporated modern music into the worship of God. It was a melding of the seemingly secular with the sacred, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
Soon, we were standing as the rector (is that his title?) walked the aisle. I was grateful we were in the middle so we could watch others for the standing and sitting cues. This, we are not used to.
He opened with a reflection that included the word “cosmos” and my soul stirred. I have a thing for words, you know, and some words hold such power all on their own. They need no explanation.
It is a science word, sort of, and a mystical one, for sure, and I cannot recall a time when I have ever heard it spoken in a church. I looked up its definition just now, to be sure I understood its meaning. “The universe seen as a well-ordered whole” is how it is described. See Merriam-Webster’s definition here.
It is an old word. And it is the opposite of chaos. I have often felt that it is the kind of word Christians might be afraid of. I see no reason to fear it.
I could name one Coldplay song, probably, before that night, though as the service continued, I recognized more and more of the melodies and lyrics. These were not the kinds of songs we could all sing along to, not like the old hymns of the church or the contemporary praise songs. But I was okay with that. I needed to listen for a while, to let the words water my soul thirst. Though the music was contemporary, this was not like a concert. Not in the least. The songs were chosen specifically for the part of the service in which they were played.
As the time for communion neared, my anxiety swelled. I’m never sure what to do with my kids during communion. I refuse to force them to say a set of words to prove their faith in God. There will be no pressure from me for a confession of faith or the reciting of a “Jesus prayer,” whatever that means. I only want to live a life of faith as best I can in front of them and encourage them to do the same. They have never not known about God, a church family, and a life of faith. I want them to be the ones to choose whether they take communion or not.
At the church we regularly attend, this is rarely an issue because they are in their children’s classes when we take communion. But I always worry when they are with us and it’s a communion Sunday. If they take it, will people talk? If they want to take it, and I tell them “no” because I’m worried about what people think, what does that say to them about how God receives them? Aren’t the little children allowed to come to Jesus?
Since it was an Episcopal church this night, I also didn’t know if that meant it was sort of like the Catholic church, where children must be confirmed to take communion. All of these thoughts occupied my mind as we prepared for communion. You see how holy I am.
I had nothing to fear. The very first person to take communion was a child younger than ours, and the woman holding the communion wafer, bent down and offered it to her with joy. There was no hesitation. And I breathed a sigh of relief. This, this, is what I want for my children. If I could go back and do it again, I would have them baptized as infants. Not because I want to take away their ability to choose. Not because I think it will save them. But because I want them to know they are part of God’s family. They are His, wholly and completely. They have a part in the kingdom, then and now.
Communion was still a bit awkward as we made our way to the front. We needed to hold our hands in front of us, we learned, to receive the wafer, and our son, who did not catch on to this, did not receive communion but was blessed by the rector, who smiled at our son. Our daughter took her wafer and ate it, saying it tasted like a sponge. My husband and I took ours with the wine in the cup, another practice I almost envy, if one can envy another church’s spiritual practices.
I enjoy a glass of wine now and then but was raised in a faith community that shunned all alcohol consumption. We remain part of that denomination today, whose rules have changed, but there is still a part of me that feels I cannot be authentic about alcohol. I still feel like I might be “found out” someday. When your church serves wine for communion, there is little debate about whether the people who are part of your community will have an issue with the wine bottles in your house.
The words of Coldplay’s “Yellow” matched the act of communion in a way I would never have thought. And when the rector led us in a post communion prayer that said, “in this holy sacrament, you give substance to our hope,” I nearly wept. The wafer. The wine. It is not just a ritual but tangible hope. If hope is hard to pin down, then the act of communion can give it form. This, this bread, this wine, this is what our hope looks like.
As the service came to a close, we danced. I know, it sounds crazy. But it was like we were celebrating, and it was not just some emotional high created by upbeat music. I wouldn’t necessarily call Coldplay’s music upbeat, not all of it, at least. But it was a response to the communion, to the words we had read together about what we believed.
We were “sent” with a hymn, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and the room almost pulsed with life as we sang together this popular song and left the sanctuary for the world outside.
It’s as powerful today as I think back on it as it was that day weeks ago. It’s been a while since God has felt so real to me inside a church. (And that is more a commentary on me than the church.)
A week or so after our first visit to this church, we received a large envelope in the mail. I had filled out the connection card because when we move to the city, there is a good chance this faith community will be one we are involved with. Inside the envelope were two name tags, one for me and one for my husband. (Our son is upset that the children didn’t get any name tags.) They are already including us, and they don’t even know us. We have not had to prove ourselves or sign any statements. We are already part of them.
I think about how this would go over in some of the evangelical churches I know. How if after one visit we sent name tags and said we could not wait for them to become more involved in our community. I think most people would run screaming or throw them away. Maybe not all people, but I definitely would feel pressured. Somehow I don’t with this church, though. I have felt included from the moment we stepped through the heavy wooden doors.
I don’t know what it all means yet. For me. For us. Lent is approaching and we might find ourselves back at that church on Ash Wednesday to receive the ashes, a sign of death, I think. I don’t always know why I want these practices or what they mean entirely. But I need some grounding in this topsy-turvy world and all I know to do is go back. Back to the practices and creeds that survive generations, that connect me to Christians past, present and future. I need solid footing.
I need Cosmos in the face of chaos.