“You’re a week early for the memorial service,” the woman in the parish house at Saint John’s Church told me. She must have seen I was crushed, standing there shrinking in my best clothes, under a raincoat. I’d missed a hike to attend this memorial. “But the organist is in the sanctuary practicing for next Saturday, if you’d like to sit in there for a while,” she offered. And then, for some unknown reason, I tiptoed in and silently slipped into a seat.
A statue of an eagle wearing a cloth scarf stood between the organ player and myself, hiding any view of the only other person in the sanctuary. I looked up and around at the high wooden Gothic-arch-vaulted ceiling and the stained glass windows while magnificent music poured from the organ. The sound was almost physical. It filled the hall, reached out and upward to the sky, and yet hovered over, hugging me. It vibrated through every inch of me. Some chords seemed to hang in the air forever. It felt like I was part of the music, like some part of me was being lifted. The word ‘glorious’ came to mind. What was I doing there, alone in this church? Me. Born Jewish, never found God, rejecting religion because it divides people.
The strange thing is I cried. I don’t know why. Maybe it was something I was missing in my life? Maybe because if I could imagine God singing, that’s how it would sound? Maybe it was because for years I’ve shunned churches and anything to do with God or love or faith, yet I envy those who are comforted by these.
Everyone needs a place they can come to, to feel welcome in, to find hope, find peace, and inspiration. My church is the hills and woods around Ithaca, New York where I hike several times a week. My sanctuary is my garden where greenest stems and leaves grow ever skyward, following the sun. The heavenly one I pray to these days is my daughter who died. I’m no longer looking for God. Grateful that not everyone has had to scramble around like I have, to find spiritual peace, I worship the earth. The planet I live on. It doesn’t matter who or what created it. I am a part of it.
For well over an hour Saint John’s was my own private church. And then I walked out into sunlight, drove home, and shed my raincoat and best clothes into a pile for next Saturday. Coming back for the memorial will be different. But worth missing another hike for, I decided.
Where do you find—glorious-ness? What is God and where is God to be found?