Uncomfortable Holiness

  • It starts with the morning sickness. You manage to get to church kind of on time, despite the overwhelming greenness of your gills. Then you go to revere the cross or altar, or bow when Jesus is mentioned, and the world spins dizzy and sick for several moments.
  • Then pregnancy exhaustion hits. The choir sings something soothing that day, and suddenly the sin of covetousness – which you had already confessed less than an hour before – overwhelms you. You totally understand why the cats and dogs in Tom and Jerry cartoons used toothpicks to hold up their drooping eyelids, and you would stab that cartoon cat with a fork to have that ability. You add “murder of a cartoon animal” to the list of things you have to repent from before taking communion and hope that a novice is singing the chants today and is out of tune enough to wake you up.
  • You also repent for being glad that the new person is not in tune. Not that you can think of a particular commandment that you’re breaking, but it seems untoward to rejoice in another’s imperfection. Figuring out which sin you’ve committed keeps you awake through the anthem, and you only get a little seasick from passing the offering plate.
  • You have no idea which form of prayers for the people you are using. You blink a lot and wonder how long you spaced out. You add an “Amen” to whatever is going on and give thanks that the church has other people in it.
  • That’s your string cheese wrapper crackling during the chanting of the Psalm. Full reverently you gobble the cheese.
  • You sip the wine and swallow quickly. Used to, you would cross yourself and think about the Medicine of Immortality or the Bread of Heaven or Theosis or Having God’s Presence in You to Shine Forth the Glory of God in the World. Just this moment, though, you say “Amen” and silently pray, “don’tbesickdon’tbesickdon’tbesickdon’tbesick.” You hope that prayer is kind of the same thing.
  • People talk to you, and you hope you don’t look as queasy and wobbly as you feel. Someone in the Narthex smells strongly of soy sauce. You’re sure of it. Or maybe the Narthex smells of soy sauce. Has it always smelled of soy sauce? Oh, no! They didn’t switch to soy candles on the prayer station, did they? Allergies must be considered. “Beg your pardon. What was that again?…Oh, yes, we’re happy about the babies.” That person seemed nice. What was her name again? I’ve known her for ten years. Maybe she’ll be a godparent?
  • The morning sickness eases and is immediately replaced by the need to visit the lavatory three times per service. You hope the cumulative years of church attendance make up for having absolutely no idea what the preacher is talking about when you return from trip number two. Oh, it’s something about grace. That’s nice. I need some of that.
  • You start crossing yourself for good measure just whenever someone says Jesus. You just can’t keep up with the subtleties any more.
  • E’re long, sitting in a pew becomes impossible. Your legs fall asleep after five minutes, so you move to the Narthex where you can stand easily as needed. The beauty of holiness is only slightly diminished by the constant chatter of the ushers throughout the service, and people think you’re just hanging out. You try not to be rude when you start reciting the Creed while a passerby remarks about the weather and your children’s haircuts.

Undignified Reverence

  • Back at home, you take your beeswax candle habit to the extreme. Part of you wonders if devotion for the sake of creating a non-nauseating atmosphere is too mixed a motive to count. You ring a bell to dispel niggling thoughts and pray anyway.
There's more than one reason for those candles at Evensong.

There’s more than one reason for those candles at Evensong.

  • You burp in the middle of singing Compline. This is a precursor to the other impolite noises you make during Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer.
  • At some point, you will find yourself rubbing your pregnancy stuffy nose with a garishly adorned handkerchief right in front of a gorgeous icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (Eleusia), and you’ll make eye contact with Mary right when the laden cloth comes away from your irritated schnoz. Some part of your mind will activate your mouth out of habit, and you’ll snuffle, “Nost Holy Teotogos Save Us.” A different part of your mind will think she smiles at this.
Mama Mary has that knowing look.

Mama Mary has that knowing look.

  • You will observe the monastic hour of Nocturns because you can’t get the pillows in just the right spot to get that one part of your back to stop hurting. Wait, now it’s your side that hurts. Ouch. Your shoulder. You’ll find a comfortable position but not trust it at first. You’ll decide to pray and read the daily lessons on your phone. Which day is it now? Is it tomorrow? Better read both sets. You will fall asleep reading one of the duller bits in the epistles. Your phone will be completely submerged in pillows when you go to use it as a flashlight to pee later.
  • You will observe the monastic prayer hour of Lauds by getting up to pee. You’ll also give thanks, of course, sometimes even more than just a “Thank you, Jesus!” at the relief.
  • You will get annoyed at every saint, mystic, and hymn that ever talked about God’s love burning in one’s heart. You wonder if it’s sacrilegious that Tums remind you of the Eucharist. Probably not if you bless them with holy water. No, that does seem weird. But you’re grateful for the Tums anyway, and that seems like a good start.

At some point, you stop feeling embarrassed or guilty about the nausea, the potty breaks, the distraction, the flatulence, the mixed motive devotions. You remember why you started all this piety in the first place: to practice the presence of God who humbled himself to become human, in order to make us divine. The saints burped through their share of psalters, too. Jesus’ mother had to get up in the night to answer the call of nature, and that in no way diminished her answer to the call of God. You feel a baby kick and smile. You recognize that smile from prayers and paintings and the long memory of the church, and just in time, you say, “Thank you.”