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Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
January 12th, 2004

Hearts and Bones

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just READ

 
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The turning point was not being able to find a pew without a direct view of the dead saint’s remains in that crystal coffin under the altar. The experience was so bad that I walked right out of Mass and, having no other church in my immediate area, I simply stopped going.

But other things weren’t going well either. I had been through a period of debilitating illness, had a job I detested, had recently suffered the loss of a boyfriend who I thought I might marry. Instead he moved out of the country for a new job, and I was in an unhealthy rebound relationship.

Out with Mr. Wrong, in with St. Right
Mostly in an effort to get out of rebound-ville, I decided to give the Church one last try, albeit in a parish without the dead saint diorama.

It worked– both my reincorporating to church life and dumping Mr. Wrong… although the latter did take a while.

When I was in college I was sometimes called upon to read the Scripture reading at Mass. It was scary but at the same time I liked it and was told that I did it well. Now, watching the lectors up at the podium (or ambo in church jargon), I would feel this almost painful pressure in my solar plexus and desire to be up there too.

But what to do about my life-long stage fright that rears its ugly head just as life gets interesting?

FatherDeMille’s bad day

At the time my new parish was holding “auditions” for new lectors. Choking back the fear, and boosting myself up with memories of positive feedback on my reading that I’d gotten in the past, I went. But the priest running it was already having a bad day when I was faced with him.

Standing up at the ambo/podium in this enormous church, I tried to remember to breathe as I read the passage. But he grumpily cut me off. “Try to be dramatic,” he said as I started over. “Be overly dramatic,” he called out. Now I was thoroughly petrified. I began yet again. But he cut me off mid way through. “You call that overly dramatic!?” Dear God, I thought, I failed the lector test. This was worse than driver’s ed.

But like with driver’s ed he passed me anyhow, and a miraculous thing happened. I lost my stage fright. Poof. Gone. I lectored up a storm—and was randomly assigned to read on all the high holy days of the Easter season. I was in my element; this was great.

Me and the holy deceased
Circumstances eventually took me back to the “Dead Lady” parish closer to home,
a place I’d grown more accustomed to, especially once I noticed the framed document on the wall assuring that the remains of the saint were legitimate, “except for the head which is venerated in Rome.” At least it wasn’t her real face I was looking at.

Today I lector there, and she and I are up on the altar together for Mass. Funny, but standing at the ambo/podium, that’s one place where you can’t see her during Mass.

 
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The Author : Elizabeth Bonwich
Elizabeth Bonwich writes from New York City.
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