Tag Archives: compassion

Lector, part two

Continued from here

The question is why I would want to be a lector in the first place. There are several reasons. First, I’ve always loved to read aloud. I spent many happy hours reading stories to my daughter when she was younger, putting on different voices for all the different characters. Second, I have terrible stage fright. I can walk into a classroom and teach, but strangers terrify me. I thought it might be good for me to get in front of a cathedral full of strangers now and again. Third, I want to know more about the Bible. Maybe reading it regularly will help me to learn about it. There’s something about religion that gets my students fired up, and I find myself resisting the common academic stance that there’s nothing for students to learn in religion. In fact, I think they need to study religion in college. Having teachers that are open to discussions of religion, and knowledgeable, and willing to accept that intellectual pursuits and spiritual ones are not mutually exclusive, these things might make all the difference to a highly religious student’s experience in college (and I have a lot of them, in my conservative, fundamentalist town). And it might allow us to find some common ground from which to begin conversations about global warming and the Iraq war. Maybe I won’t be seen as the enemy, the intellectual anti-religious Satan worshipper their mothers warned them about (and believe me, my students do get warned about us Satan-loving professors — using those words, too!) If they sense a kinship in inquiry and spirituality, perhaps they’ll be more willing to listen to the questions I ask and the viewpoints I present.

And finally, I just love the language of the Bible. It’s majestic and powerful and cadenced… and oh, wait… that’s the King James Version, which no one uses any more. Sigh. I have to settle for more modern translations, which might be more accessible and perhaps even more accurate, but which lack what I remember from my childhood — that soaring language, a kind of poetry. Still, it’s fun to read.

Eventually I was contacted for training, and after my lessons I was allowed to read at a daily mass in the little chapel. During the summer, I read on Thursday and Saturday mornings, to a scant dozen in the little chapel which I love so much. Then I was brought in for a Sunday service, along with my trainer, who had softened towards me by then, perhaps because I do enjoy it, when I’ve over being terrified, and because I do feel a kind of reverence in reading.

And now, now, I’ve been scheduled for Holy Thursday, one of the biggest masses of the year. Last year I sat up front with my fellow RCIA journeyers while the bishop washed our feet. Nada sat close by, participating too, and all I could remember was a story he told of being in India with his best friend. They’d been walking all day, and their feet were filthy. “And we went into a bathroom and he took off my shoes and washed my feet. I think that was one of the most moving moments of my life,” Nada said when he told me the story, and his face was soft as he remembered.

As the bishop came closer to me, with his jug of water, and the catch basin, and the small white towel, I realized what Nada had meant, how the act of foot-washing symbolized so very much: humility, love, grace, compassion. Nada’s friend’s act was an act of love and reverence towards him. The bishop’s action commemorated Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet, as well as the words Jesus told the disciples at the time: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (KJV John 13:34). The bishop, an elderly man, sank to his knees before us, and washed our feet, and dried them gently, with words of compassion, and I was moved by it all, by the incense and organ music and choir, and the holy water sprinkled over us, and the prospect of being able to participate in the Eucharist in just two days. And by the bishop’s “peace be with you,” as he finished drying my feet, and stood carefully up to move to the next person, grimacing slightly, his knees paining him, and yet no word of complaint. Just a service to us on this eve of baptism and confirmation. It was grand.

In the end, perhaps reading on Sundays is a way of thanking them all, the RCIA team, the bishop and monseignor, the choir, everyone else, for that moment of understanding.