I Have Decided to Go to Church

Grateful for this reflection by Sarah Gates: I have decided to go to church. It’s […]

Guest Contributor / 3.27.19

Grateful for this reflection by Sarah Gates:

I have decided to go to church. It’s a good idea. It’s at least a better idea than not going. I’ll probably feel bad if I don’t go. Specifically, I’ll feel bad about myself. I should go. I don’t want to go anywhere lately, but I will go. I should go. I’ll go.

Tim has already taken the car for Sunday school, so I’ll have to metro. I already know I’m going to be late, so I hurry myself to the extent possible without working myself up further (further than I already have through my teeth-ground dreams). I quickly shower, I drink water, I ingest a pill, I reach for the important things—my large water bottle, keys, wallet. This is harder than it sounds.

When I arrive at the metro station, a man is lumbering across the GW entrance, yelling that he is going to kill everyone, and “Fuck the American flag”; his flag is red, black, and blue. Near the escalator, two small girls are running around their mom in circles; she cautions them: “Girls, stay close!”

Already, this is more than I’ve bargained for.

I arrive at the Virginia Square metro station; a homeless man I’ve seen many times mumbles, asking for help; when I decline, he ekes out, “Aw man, don’t be a coward, coward, coward, coward…,” a sanguineous turntable.

I want to cry; this is much more than I’ve bargained for.

I told a friend recently about how lately I feel like a totally different person inside a room versus outside of a room. In a room, I feel myself, domestic, calm, contained, clean, okay, good, fine. I think about what Virginia Woolf writes about how when we walk among people, “[t]he shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves…is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughness a central pearl of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.”

I imagine that, most of the time, I must carry around an IV containing a potion of patience and calm. I only conjure this theory about an IV because I’m pretty sure someone’s stolen it; lately, any time someone speaks to me outside of a room (outside of my room, or a friendly room), I feel I might ignite. My enormous eye is less a central pearl of perceptiveness than it is the eye of Sauron, ready to incinerate and destroy.

I arrive at church. I’ve missed most of the service. It’s warm inside, and it feels good. It doesn’t feel like I thought it would — like everyone is looking at me. They aren’t looking at me, and even when they do, it’s in a way I can handle. The mischievous baby is there, reminding me of baby Adil from Zanzibar. Robbie is there, with his planfulness and good ideas and hands that could easily build a table. They all seem to know what they’re doing.

I can’t stop watching myself, so I start thinking about a time in high school when I went to the park and rolled down the hill. I did it so I could feel like I was a kid — joyful and reckless — but also so I could do something a little dangerous and strange. I remember rolling over rocks and sticks and dirt.

Afterwards, I went to the cemetery and walked around. I don’t remember exactly why, but I walked up to my friend Laura’s church. A few college-aged students were there singing, maybe practicing for something. I weirdly walked towards them, told them I knew Laura, which I figured would make me seem less insane, and sang with them for a bit. I remember it was really nice. I think about it a lot, actually, and how churches can sometimes create a miraculously open and non-judgy space, where you can walk in and say, “Hey, I know Laura; can I sing with you guys?” Sometimes.

I can only stay in this memory for a little bit; pieces of the service usher me in and out: “Peace be with you, and also with you.” At least I haven’t missed communion, which is probably the best part, let’s be honest. If not the best part, it’s at least the hardest part for people to screw up.

I’m stranger than normal. I’m strange. I sort of wish that a spaceship would descend and suck me into its beam of light.

At the back of the altar, my mind wanders. I would like for it to wander away from me. I think about how bloated I feel, and how my body is more sensitive to carbs lately. The rector hands me a giant chunk of bread, gianter than normal, and I laugh.

Whenever you see a movie that focuses on one person — let’s say, the name of the movie is the name of the principle character — do you have a hard time afterwards shaking free from the notion that your life is also a movie? That everything you do is potentially significant to Mr. or Ms. Movie-Maker? The moment you hang your keys on the hook in the entryway, or the moment you reheat a cup of coffee, or the moment you start to write? Do you then start to watch your actions in a distant but also immersed way, as if you’re both a vacuum cleaner and a piece of dust, a diver and a mollusk, a pencil and a line of a text?

The funny thing I’ve realized, in these moments when I feel I have to watch myself, prodding and smoothing my inside-of-a-room wrinkles and roughness, carefully folding myself like laundry, is that God is not Mr. or Ms. Movie-Maker, and that even if S/he were, the movie would not be a tragedy. Because God makes jokes that are actually pretty funny, even jokes having to do with sacramental bread. God makes jokes that are so funny I’ll never even understand.

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