I go to church to get real. Like so many others in our chaotic world, I need to find places where I can sink into myself and God and catch my breath. I know I should do Centering Prayer or some kind of breathing meditation, but as a fidgety Catholic with attention deficit disorder, those disciplines leave me sweaty and wanting to drive my car at 100 mph down the Autobahn. If I lived anywhere near the Autobahn, which I don’t.
I walk into church and wonder of wonders, it is quiet. No one is talking on their phones, no little chimes ring to announce a text, and there are no loud voices. Of course, the two older ladies who always sit at the edge of their pews on the right turn toward each other to catch up and talk. But softly.
As I sit and wait for Mass to begin, I think about some wisdom my mom passed on to me before she died. She tapped her leg saying, “I say, ‘Bless this leg, for it still works. Bless this arm, for I can still lift it.’”
She had a whole other way of looking at life and mobility as she edged toward the door that would take her out of this life. She taught me that being able to get off the couch is an accomplishment, that just standing up is a victory. I learned from her to say: Bless my right knee, for it still works, even though I limp. Bless these legs, for they still carry me through life. Bless my brain — even if slightly diminished from chemo — for I can still write.
Settling back in the pew, I listen to my body. I stop dividing it up into “good” parts — meaning, they live up to my expectations — and “bad” parts — meaning they have let me down in some way. If I stop criticizing my body (which, as women, we learn early on), I sail into a place of peace, calm, and acceptance.
Mass begins with its familiar prayers — Confession, Lord Have Mercy — anchoring me in place. My breath slows. I look up at the crucified Jesus on the large cross above and take that image into my heart.
For someone who is immensely distractible, this church keeps me focused. The stained glass windows, which I can look at when my mind wanders. The altar boy who always lifts his hands in prayer with such seriousness. The beautiful melody when the priest sings, “Through Him and With Him, and In Him.” Everything brings me back to God as I sit in the pew.
The entire Mass grounds me and keeps me real, like the person I think God sees. He sees the Annie he created — faults, follies, and all. I may not often recognize this inner person — the sacred, incarnational me — but by praying, singing hymns, and being present in the Mass, I catch glimpses of her. I’m held in God’s hands, and when I leave Mass, I swear I walk with a firmer step, without a limp.