Going to church is a strange thing when you consider it. What makes it holy, special, the sort of place that brings me to the spirit world? This morning I gave a tour at the Museum of the Tiffany windows in the concert hall. That used to be a church but it was ” deconsecrated “. How did they make it not holy any more? Isn’t every place in the world holy? Is a Walmart store holy? A bordello? A torture chamber? Maybe not. Still, those places are built on the sacred earth. The earth is sacred all over. The windows depict scenes from scripture but I only talk about the glass-making technique, the business genius of Tiffany, the social class of the people who made up the congregation. Nothing sacred in that discourse.
Then, when the tour was over, I went to St. Joseph’s Oratory. That church is famous here in Montreal. It’s a place of pilgrimage and loads of crutches and sticks are hung up as proof of miraculous cures. They all date from the last century. Don’t miraculous cures take place any more? Tourists come by the bus-load but believers come too. There were many Asian people there today. I wandered around and lit a candle as a thank you for a wonderful thing that happened. Like many people I pray in secret for things to happen. When they do it feels like good manners to say thank you somehow. Nothing is “forever”. Even Lazarus had to die a second time. However, sometimes I feel like I get a really big blessing, a gift from the universe, from the spirit of all life.
The Oratory is a sort of complex of churches and chapels and a garden and a gift shop and the heart of a saint on display and a museum. It’s quite a place. The part I like best is a sort of hall with altars to the attributes of St. Joseph where I lit my candle among the hundreds of others. It’s hot and dark in there and people are talking and taking pictures. It puts me in mind of people struggling and asking the saint for help. From there I went into a chapel where Mass was being said. The priest was a young man from South India or Siri Lanka. He had a wonderful voice and a rather charismatic way with him. Many people went to Holy Communion and I was surprised after Mass to see many people lined up to put their hands on the feet of the figure of Jesus on a large crucifix. I got the impression most of,them were asking for something.
I don’t understand what church really is. What are these buildings, and pictures and objects that mean something, some sort of blind searching? Today I had to go to a place that was still ” consecrated” on a special mission to catch that little flame on the taper and light up a candle in a glass cup. Beside the flame there were tears of gratitude too for being alive and being happy.
People were there with their cameras, their best clothes, saris, beautiful African turbans and Sikh turbans too and Vietnamese speech, bewildered American tourists, and the beautiful voice of a Chinese girl who sang the responses. I liked being in the midst of all these people. I had my place in there too.
The church is a place to honour the Spirit and to ask for what we need and to thank when we get it and to wonder and wonder what is the whole heart of this existence.