Sunday, December 7, 2008

Church Service

I spent about an hour today in a Methodist church, the first time in many, many, many years. There were at least a couple of hundred people there, mostly teenagers, to pay respects to a boy who died just a few days ago at age sixteen. His body will be cremated, I'm told.

A girl who I'd guess was about 15 or 16 sat in the pew in front of me, between her mother and her father, with her much younger brother next to the mother. The girl wept during the entire service, tears streaming down her face and then building up in her eyes again and then again rushing down her cheeks and onto her blouse. Her mother and father tried to comfort her but it was no use. She was in pain and there was nothing anyone could do. Her sobbing only occasionally became noticeable to the ear; I think I may have been one of the few people to see her sobbing.

That girl in the pew in front of me was the only person I saw who seemed to be so utterly torn apart by the boy's death. I'm sure the parents were even more grief-stricken, but the girl was so close to me I could feel her sobs.

I've never had much use for churches, but I can see how some people can find comfort there. They want to believe a life is not over, that it's just beginning; the church and its teachings fill that want. They want to believe there was a purpose in a life taken early; the church lets them believe it. They want some greater power to give them hope in a time that's so very, very dark and ugly; the church encourages them to have hope.

When I saw that girl sobbing in front of me, I would have liked to have been able to offer her some comfort.

It's that sort of experience that makes me get angry with myself when I feel like confronting deeply religious people with a challenge to their beliefs. Who are they hurting with their beliefs?

So, in that solemn place where so many people were seeking solace, I chose to be forgiving and understanding of what I consider to be their delusions. And in that place, I think those people would have been forgiving of what they would have considered mine.

1 comment:

scarletvirago said...

When I was in high school, I attended one funeral a year. Twice for actual friends and twice to support people close to me. All were held in the local catholic church that years later would see me again for my niece's funeral. I got no comfort from that place or the people in it as an adult, there to see 3 months of a life mourned. But I distinctly recall feeling safe there as a teenager, surrounded by nearly the entire student body (small town, then); all people in my own age bracket that I instinctively knew felt the way I did. There were no rules for grieving and I've rarely come closer to something like a spiritual experience.

All that to say that I don't think it's the place, so much as the people.