Broken, Humbled

Photo by james e.i. sapp, via Flickr

I cruised into church twenty minutes late, delayed because the sitter got held late at work, and slid into a pew two-thirds of the way back. I tried to quiet my mind so I could enjoy what was left of Mass, but everything distracted me, from jaded judgments on people I was supposed to be celebrating with to the mere shadow of my fingers on the upholstered pew. Thoughts that no child of God should entertain—judgmental, dismissive—thoughts that threw into stark relief the divide between who I appear to be, who I aspire to be—and who I really am.

I wanted to receive Communion, but the liturgist in me wouldn’t allow it, since I didn’t arrive until the Memorial Acclamation. Besides, never before had the words “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” hit so close to home. While everyone else filed up to the front, I knelt, singing “Deep Within” and trying to shut off the part of my brain that I’m ashamed to claim.

Afterward, one of our choir members and her husband met me at the back of church and invited me to sit with them at dinner. I can’t say how much I admire these two people, and the family they have raised. Someday I hope we’ll grow up to be like them.

Sharing a meal with them was good for me. What they are is exactly what I lack: patience, serenity, and loving acceptance of everyone and everything. Spending time with them shifts my perspective. It gives me model of what I am called to be.

I don’t spend that much time at church anymore. While I was working, I did music for anywhere from two to five Masses a weekend, and during the week I practically lived there. Christian and I were in front of everyone, and in the thick of parish life. Now we do what we can, and many of our fellow parishioners we see but rarely—on occasions like this, a dinner for ministers. Several people approached me to offer compliments, to say they missed hearing me sing and Christian play. Five years ago, I was used to hearing such effusions. Not anymore.

And then, one of my tablemates pulled me aside to offer his own affirmation. “When you sing,” he said, “you can summon the angels.”

On the heels of such shameful self-revelation, the compliment seemed to go on and on. You would think that at such a moment, a person would be susceptible to pride. Not this time. This time, my conscience repeated every word he said, and turned it to an accusation of unworthiness. Stand still, I thought. Don’t ruffle your hair. Don’t look sheepishly at the floor. Don’t argue with him. Just stand here and take it like a man. It was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most humbling.

Where does this lead me? I have no idea. I do not know how to teach myself to see beauty instead of blemishes. How to focus on goodness instead of annoyances. Maybe the point is that I need these moments of brokenness to remind me that “I am not worthy”—to remind me that I can’t do it alone—that holiness is a gift, and a grace, not something I can earn.

But I can aspire to deserve the gift.