Sunday, June 15, 2008

Necromancy, Pittsburgh Style

Because I'm here with my parents on a Sunday, there was no way I was going to get out of going to church. So bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, there I was warming a pew on Sunday morning for the first time in years. We sang a hymn, did a properly humble prayer, and I was just settling in for a nice nap during the sermon, when the pastor announced that it was time for "the communion of saints". I didn't remember this from childhood services so I wasn't sure what to expect.

First, the ushers walked down the outside aisles, carefully lowering each blind. At the same time someone slowly dimmed the electric chandeliers. By the time both processes were finished, the only light in the sanctuary was a bit of sunlight sneaking in between the slats of the Venetian blinds.

Then everybody bowed their heads. For a while I thought this was some kind of silent meditation, but gradually I noticed a low eerie humming. This increased in volume for about five minutes, eventually becoming loud enough to make the windows and organ pipes vibrate in sympathy. The congregation held this note while the pastor began to chant: "I believe in the communion of saints. I believe in the communion of saints. I believe in the communion of saints. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS."

He began to spin in a circle, continuing the chant. Strangely, his voice wasn't distorted by the spinning. This may have been because of the wireless headset he was wearing, but after what came next, I'm not so sure.

The pastor's arms slowly rose to shoulder level and his head went back at a slight angle. I thought he might be doing the thing that dervishes do where they train their eyes on a particular spot so they don't get dizzy. But his eyes were shut tight.

"I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS."

He was spinning faster and faster, his robe whipping out at his sides, his stole fluttering in the breeze he had created. The congregation's humming continued to increase in volume. The blinds were rattling now, and the organ pipes were banging like bad plumbing.

"I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS."

Suddenly the ambient sunlight was gone and we were plunged into pitch blackness. At the same time, the humming and chanting stopped. All was silent and dark. I remember thinking this was much more spiritual than I remember, when I noticed a pinprick of light over the pulpit. Within seconds this had multiplied into a cloud of lights, swarming around each other like fireflies. Then they began to expand rapidly. There was a blinding flash. When my eyes recovered, I looked up to the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary to find it alive with activity.

Well, perhaps "alive" is a poor choice of words. For there, arrayed in a gently undulating circle, were the spirits of famous deceased American Presbyterians. I saw Jimmy Stewart and Abraham Lincoln arm-in-arm, their faces lit with ecstatic brotherhood. There was Woodrow Wilson, radiating wisdom like an old testament king, and across the circle from him was John Witherspoon, his posture and aura an exact match. Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan marched around the perimeter, stripped to the waist and carrying spears, proud warriors of the faith, defending it in death even as they had in life. Andrew Carnegie held court in the center of the circle, presumably because he was a local boy. He showered the crowd with golden drops of heavenly love, as magnanimous with this in death as he had been with his fortune in life.

I'm also pretty damn sure I saw Danny Kaye up there, which is weird because I thought he was Jewish.

Anyway, this went on for about fifteen minutes, until there was another blinding flash and the sanctuary was plunged into darkness again. Slowly the sunlight crept back in and the electric lighting was brought back up. Everybody stood up and looked around smiling, greeting their neighbors and shaking hands. Then they sang another hymn, took a collection, sang yet another hymn, and walked out into the day. As we were driving home I tried to talk to my parents about what had happened. They just smiled enigmatically and said they were looking forward to their usual Sunday morning Bloody Marys.

6 comments:

Hannah said...

OKAY AND THEN YOU WOKE UP RIGHT? OKAY AND THEN YOU WERE MAKING IT UP, RIGHT?
that was pretty great. i don't honestly know what to make of it. thanks, anyhow.

Richard said...

Terrible confession: I was in Pittsburgh the last few days, but everything I related is sorta kinda fictional (though if I ever have insane amounts of money I am going to commission someone to make Miniature Heretical Egg Copters a reality).

Hannah said...

my day job results in the loss of several billion brain cells every day, so what begins as a gullible personality ends in complete mental retardation.
then again, i have to remember that i have known 'charismatic' episcopalians, in the years i spent in Oklahoma, and aside from the magic realism, I wouldn't put this sort of behavior past them.

Paul Buede said...

Oh wow, at first it sounded Pentecostal, but then, I thought we Catholics were the only ones who believed in the communion of saints... You had me very interested...

Richard said...

Nope, it's in the presbyterian statement of faith too (The Apostle's Creed I think), where we also say we believe in "the holy catholic church". That always confused me as a kid.

Richard said...

Well, I say "we", but I haven't been a practicing (or believing) Presbyterian for a loooong time. 'Twas a cultural "we".