At our church there is a giant statue of a freshly crucified Jesus Christ hanging from the 30 foot wall behind the main alter. I remember being told that an Italian carpenter had hand carved the whole thing from specially blessed wood shipped from some exotic untouched country from the far ends of the world. The parish had it shipped over and blessed a second time, before displaying it proudly for all to admire for the duration of every mass. Even after having it hung up on the wall for three years, I’m still not use to it. As the priest gives his homily my eyes keep drifting to the giant half-naked Son of God looming over us as bright, crimson paint drips from his head and hands. I observe absently that it’s probably the whitest version of Jesus Christ I have ever seen in my life.
After 21 years of Sunday service, my body has adapted to the repetitive schedule of weekly mass. Once I step through the stain glass doors, my mind is set on autopilot and I have no choice but to give in and watch my body go through the motions of worship. The prayers slip pass my lips, timed perfectly and recited without a second thought, and for just an hour every Sunday I allow myself to be buried under the duty of obligation. I have accepted long ago that it is better to be a hypocrite than to be a disappointment.
My mind, for the most part, slips into itself, but then rises out of the haze every so often just to make sure my fellow parishioners have not noticed my absence of mind. I know by now this is not the judgment-free zone that outsiders usually expect. Every now and then a word or phrase that pours out of the deacon’s mouth will fish me out of myself and dump me back into reality. Unfortunately, this is not one of those days, and the monotonous performance of the homily and continuous flow of words that spill out of Father’s mouth lull me into a trance of mindless thought, as my external appearance remains focused and attentive. I have been self-trained in the art of deception, and I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
There was one time, where out of the blue, one of the Father’s had been delivering a homily and he had, for some reason or another, compared enlightenment through Christ to an orgasm. An honest to god orgasm. My first thought was to wonder whether or not he knew what an orgasm felt like, but then I screeched to a halt and backtracked, desperate to censor my mind from any unwanted thoughts that I could never unthink about the same guy who listened to my confessions when I was seven. My second thought had been to glance around, subtly of course, to check if anyone else had been caught off guard by the bizarre comparison. It seemed like nobody had even blinked, and I sat there baffled and confused. A few eyes had been like mine, slowly fading like receding headlights as the speech droned on, but most of the crowd seemed to be paying attention. What exactly had I missed within the ten minutes I’d been spaced out? What kind of new modern metaphor had I dazed out on? It wasn’t until after mass that I found out he’d been comparing Christian enlightenment to a superior organism. Typical stuff. I kept my previous thoughts to myself.
There is something about being in a room full of people, all feeling some kind of connection or passion for something you can’t find it in you to feel. You can’t help but ask yourself where you went wrong. After mass, I’ll watch my mother genuflect deeply down in front of the tabernacle with a wholesome expression on her face, or see my grandmother deeply immersed in private prayer in front of the petition candles tucked into the back corner of the room. Maybe something has failed to be passed onto me, or preserved in me, and that’s what prevents me from taking any of this to heart. I am a spectator pretending to be part of a community that I lack any real passion for. But when I think of the peace it gives my family, I think that I can at least sacrifice this for their love. There’s a quote that I remember reading from a book by Miriam Toews that tends to sneak into my mind during these moments: “There’s no room for in between. You’re in or you’re out. You’re good or you’re bad. Actually, you’re very good or very bad. Or very good at being very bad without being detected.” I’m pretty sure I know where I fit in that spectrum, and I wish I could say that I’m sorry for it, but I’d be lying.