Monday, April 27, 2009

Candles and Silence and a Meeting

In 1982, 6 years after moving from Richmond, California to Benicia, California, I was walking in my new town one evening in late winter. I used to walk all over town during the evenings after I graduated from high school as a form of sorting out my thoughts and finding some balance.

I was about a mile from home when the sky opened up, and it began raining in great, gushing torrents, and as I happened to be nearby, I ducked into the parish church my family attended. This was when Benicia was a lot smaller, folks didn't lock their doors, and the church was never locked.

It was about 8 O'clock, and the sun had long set. Coming from outside, the quiet of the empty Church was quite a contrast. It was built some time in the 1850s, and like most old Catholic churches, it was built of solid masonry and huge timbers - the walls were probably 3 feet think, and it was rich with odors - old wood, candle wax, incense, chrism oil, maybe a bit of perfume or cologne from some Sunday parishioner.

The church was empty, and very silent - broken only by an occasional creak from the rafters as a gust spent itself against the building, or the soft sound of the old wooden pews swelling slightly with moisture in the saturated air.

There were no lights on, but there were candles at the shrines all along the sides of the church; their glow painted the interior a sacred warm gold. A statue of Mother Mary at the front of the church looked with kindness at the pews that every Sunday were filled with sinners, the kind of people that had murdered her Son. The tabernacle held that very same Son, now resurrected and present, and ready to forgive and eager to teach us sinners how to love with real selfless sacrificial Love, Love so overflowing that it would make you die for the sake of your murderers.

I sat in the pew, awed, and let the serenity of that place fill me. There was peace and holy silence and ancient love. I went back to that Church many times that winter. I was 19 years old.

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