Tuesday, July 18, 2006

National Cathedral


I spent the summer of 1981 at a University exchange program, attending classes in Washington, D.C. One Sunday, one of my dorm-mates wanted to worship at the National Cathedral. I’d never been to church as an adult. It’d been five years since I’d been inside a church at all, and only then because I was their youth janitor. I was always a visitor, an interloper. I didn’t belong and I knew it.

The Cathedral was huge and filled with so many people it was like going to the National Ballet. Men wore suits and women sported nice dresses. I had on one of my spaghetti strap California girl sundresses, my defense against the oppressive humidity and heat. There were microphones and speakers, maybe TV monitors, I don’t remember.

What I do remember, and what I found so strange at the time, was that it didn’t feel completely foreign to me. I was a twenty-year-old atheist. I thought faith was an excuse not to think for oneself. I didn’t want any part of it. I went to the Cathedral simply because everyone else went.

The Scripture was the one on love. Now I know its 1 Corinthians 13. Then I knew it was the only one I recalled hearing before. Go to a few weddings and it becomes a theme. Didn’t the Bible have anything else to say?

I didn’t get the whole looking in mirror darkly bit. But what I thought love should be and what the Bible said love should be were pretty similar. The preacher said things about love and I remember that my scalp began to tingle in that huge Cathedral.

With all those people hearing the same words about love, I expected that the world would look different to us, and that we would act differently in it. I thought that love would take over and something––I don’t know what––would happen––that traffic outside would cease, or all of us strangers would stand up and look into each other’s eyes, instead of shuffling out in our own little groups anxious to get back to our own little lives.

Afterward, people acted the same, as if we’d never heard the words about love. Or if we did, we didn’t know how to act them out in our bodies. We were just a crowd, trying not to trample each other.

©Cathy Warner 2006

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