The Communal Mystery of Religious Experience

/// Tired, so expect a typo or two.

I don’t spend much time in churches these past days. Since 2007, really. A few weddings. Baptisms. That sort of thing.

Tonight was such a night. At St. Bedes in Palo Alto my youngest nephew, Joey, was baptized. Family is in town, and we’re mostly camping out in Joey’s parents’ house in Sunnyvale.

His mom, my oldest sister and her husband Brian, are Episcopalian. In fact, though my family was mostly raised in the Lutheran church, we’re slowly becoming Episcopalian.

I’m the functional holdout, though the members of my family, like every family of educated independents, varies in our religiosity.

It’s not a simple situation; homogeneity in religious view can be a harmonizing reality among some groups. Happily, in my family our mildy, and my case antithetical, views exist side by side in a respectful tension.

We are not the same, but we love as one.

A few short notes from this evening: There is a mystery to group ritual in the dark. This effect is heightened by candles. Tonight’s service, on the eve of Easter, was bathed in candle light.

Upon entering St. Bedes, on this night each year you are handled a candle. Early in the service they are lit slowly, with the person at the end of a pew being set aflame, passing the fire down the row, person to person.

It can make reading hymns tricky.

Religions are often hidebound. The Episcopalian church is torn between its modern tendencies - women can be preachers! - and stiff, unbending liturgy and songs that are often at a pace that borders on the glacial.

However, when you mix kids into the equation, it all goes to hell in a perfect way.

When two tots are to be baptized, they stick in the service. Joey, all of 17 months, is taking his time talking. But in the church, he was into it. At all the wrong moments. Loudly gurgling passionately while pointing around at things he found interesting.

Candles. His mother. Uncle Alex. Candles. Preacher. Candles.

And it was perfect. Though he had all but no idea what was about to happen to him, Joey was a definite part of the service. And not just when he was at the font being spritzed three times by a kindly woman wearing what appeared to be 95 pounds of robe.

There is a different form of communion among a liturgic service. It’s not my sort of thing - far too much sitting still and repeating phrases - but to brush up against it on the occasion does me good, and would benefit you too I suspect, if you aren’t among the commonly faithful.

Why? Roughly because it will remind you what many of those who do pursue religion are in fact looking for.

It’s not all gay baiting and the fighting of science.

Sometimes its the joy that comes of a community promising to look after one of their young.

I don’t believe in the tenets of Christianity, but I can at least say that Joey has been inducted into a group that honestly cares about his well being.

And though I would do it differently if I was his parent, I’ll drink to his evening.


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