Sitting on the wall again
Lynne James, Church Warden at the Parish of Penrhiwceiber, Matthewstown and Ynysboeth, tells us why she's been longing for church during lockdown. It's a truly beautiful read.
As a child I used to walk regularly to and from my nan's house. Often as I made my way back home I would walk the long way round so that I could walk past All Saints’ church and the local chapel.
I would often sit on the wall across the road from the church talking to God, sometimes walking back and forth from the chapel to the church, until I had finished my chat. As an adult I came to recognise that chat as being my prayer.
I knew where God lived and I cherished my time sitting on the wall chatting with him.
I never went to church regularly as a child - there were occasions as a very small child that I remember being taken to the chapel and All Saints’ church by neighbours from Pentwyn Avenue. I never however remember a time when I did not know God. God was as real and present to me as was any member of my family.
Coming home to church
It would take almost twenty years before I got off the wall and through the doors into the church. The longing to be on the inside of the doors never really went away in that time but was always somehow obstructed by one thing or the other: excuses I suppose. At times, the longing would become more intense, though, until a day of determination to be brave, go to church, and see what happened. Coming to St Winifred’s church was life-changing for me, a coming home.
Father Ben talks passionately about us belonging to and with each other. I knew instantly that I belonged there.
What I found on the inside of the doors was love, kindness, peace, and a reassurance of everything being in its right place, of me being in my right place. This has been a constant in my life for more than thirty years. I always feel privileged that most of my days can begin or end in prayer and the celebration of the Mass in this holy place. I had never imagined a time of that not being possible.
Connecting through prayer
A friend said to me recently how fortunate we are as Catholic Christians to have such a rich prayer life to sustain us through this time. That we are blessed to have available to us the structure of morning and evening prayer, the prayers of the Rosary, the Regina Coeli, the Angelus and most importantly the daily Mass. The Mass to which I still feel totally connected even while only being able to watch the celebration via a computer screen - so much so that I can be moved to tears during its celebration.
My friend was right: the pattern of prayer we have been given is an invaluable gift as I continue my prayer life in the fractured way that is imposed on us by the current pandemic.
But I am longing for other gifts. Gifts that I have always appreciated, but have also taken for granted - much like I have taken for granted the fact that there will be food on the table. Benediction, daily Mass, the healing liturgies and reconciliation. The sound of the church organ, familiar hymns, the smell and sight of the incense rising with our prayers. Seeing the images of Our Lady and saying thank you for her love and care. The freedom of being able to kneel in prayer or just simply to sit in silence in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
A sense of loss
I have experienced a huge sense of loss which I know is not unique to me. Feelings that have to be wrestled with. I frequently tell myself to grow up, that there are people far worse off than me and that I live a life full of blessings; to be grateful for the extraordinary ways in which
Father Ben reaches out through the very stones of the building to keep us together in prayer and in fellowship, and I really am extremely grateful for him and his ministry.
What I have come to recognise and accept, though, is that what I am experiencing is a type of grief. A grief that is mine and that cannot and should not be compared or reasoned against that of others. That rather than suppress it or be ashamed of it I should acknowledge it for what it is. I have experienced the stages of anger, despair, the bargaining, hope, acceptance and have also added whining and whinging. I fluctuate back and forth between stages frequently finding myself lingering at the whinging and whining stage. I am an excellent whinger. I know and am now reconciled to accept that these feelings will continue until this aching and longing is resolved and I am again able to come back home.
A strange, enforced retreat
I sometimes think of this time as being a strange enforced retreat. There are lovely things about it - like how much joy looking to see who is at Mass each morning gives me, cherishing a smile or a wave across the screen or a thumbs up from someone who doesn’t dare unmute themselves on Zoom to say all is ok with her. Enjoying garden meet-ups with next door neighbours, little socially-distanced chats with people who come to the door as I post something to them. Fleeting visits to the bottom of my garden from people who I love and miss.
The sharing of home cooked food has been amazing. I have never eaten such a variety of good quality home cooked cake and desserts and Mr Kipling is just not going to cut it from here on in. The creativity that has been shared, so much talent which may otherwise not have been seen.
The kindness, love, humour and prayer found within our WhatsApp group messages – and, until we are fully back together, I cannot think of deleting the thread of them.
I have rediscovered a love of walking, especially the well-timed walk that takes me to the gate of the church when the bells ring out for the Angelus and then sometimes on to say hello to a friend, knowing that there is likely to be a little parcel of something delicious brought out to the door for me to take back and enjoy with a cup of tea.
Coming home to church
I truly believe the words of St Paul when he says nothing separates us from the love of God.
I know that wherever I am God is.
He was there when as a child I sat on a wall chatting to him, he is with me as I pray at home alone, when I virtually attend incredibly beautiful and powerful celebrations of Mass sitting in my bedroom and when I stand at the gate of the church or on the wall of my own garden listening to the church bells as I say the Angelus or sing (yes sing!) the Regina Coeli. But, for all its newly-found joys, I won't be in a rush to book this strange retreat again.
I don't have to be in church for God to be with me but I long to come to him in worship and prayer.
And, until I am able to do so, I will be a restless, whinging and whining soul. I’m homesick and ready to come home.