I used to haunt nearby churches in order to find peace. This was during the Snowden Period of my life, when I was self-destructive in numerous ways. Those details aren’t important. But, I was so restless & unsatisfied, that there were times when even these unhealthy behaviors weren’t enough & I would set out, looking for something else. I fixated on churches.
First, I started driving to the Mormon ones. I would drive to the building over on Fall Hill that my sisters & I grew up in, or even the one in Garrisonville. Sometimes I would just get there, turn around in the parking lot & go back where I came from. Then, I started going to other churches, the Presbyterian one in Hartwood that my grandparents attended, the new synagogue near the house we were then living in, the various ones grouped on Princess Anne downtown. I would sit on their steps or wander in adjacent cemeteries, hoping to stop for a few minutes & just rest. Just to get away from the compulsive edge sharpening itself in my head.
I rarely stayed long. I would get paranoid about the other people who would show up for legitimate church functions. I was afraid they’d ask me to leave. I was afraid they’d ask me to stay. So I continued on my way.
Eventually I overcame my “I’m a stranger here myself” syndrome & worked up the courage to walk into a church on a weekday. (Sundays were & still can be really bad days for me. The anxiety/panic gets so bad sometimes I can hardly carry on a conversation, let alone be around people.) I chose St. Mary’s because I knew the church was open all the time. And because I had this antiquated idea of sanctuary that came from various novels I had read.
I knew how to behave myself in a church. I had seen enough TV shows & movies to know how to cross myself properly & where to genuflect. The only questions was did I have the nerve to walk through the door, a member of a different faith & an imposter looking for something she couldn’t even define.
I did. The first time I went into the church, I had to keep myself from staring at everything. Obviously, Catholics are different from Protestants in the amount o’ stuff they associate with their worship. It was all new to me, from the fold-down prayer benches to the huge cross over the altar to the Stations of the Cross on the wall. I lit a candle, partially out of desperate hope, partially for the novelty of it. I left after 15 minutes.
I came back sporadically after that, but each time I stayed longer. 15 minutes eventually became 45, nearly an hour. I would just sit in the pew & bow my head & allow the quiet to creep into me. That compulsive drive, the demand to move now & satisfy some clamoring part of my brain NOW, was muted. Distance was gained just by sitting still & hoping the stillness I felt was some part of God’s presence.
The visits to St. Mary’s didn’t stop the inevitable from happening. Things got more & more out of control until I found myself in Snowden, relegated to their care since I had stopped giving any consideration to myself. The time stolen in St. Mary’s didn’t fix things but it didn’t hurt them either. Sometimes, but not so often, when events in my life feel overwhelming, I’ll find myself driving past the church & asking myself why I don’t stop in for a minute. Like I did today. I didn’t stop, but I think soon I will.