The sanctuary is dark, lit only by candles.
Every pew is full. The choir rows are full. The altar is full, people sitting against the wall, laying down on the carpet.
It’s not quiet though. The sanctuary hums with muted chatter and the noises of settling. It feels almost as though we are refugees, travelers, coming from all over to gather in this place, finding space wherever we can to rest our bodies. To rest our souls.
– – –
As soon as the service starts, the mood shifts, and the whole space becomes a different kind of holy.
There are nuns who are playing instruments and singing, leading the pulse of music that flows through the room, but it is so dark, I cannot tell which of the shadowed bodies are theirs. Their voices come out of the dark from all around me.
I can’t see the words printed on my bulletin, so I just close my eyes. The songs are simple, though, and we repeat them over and over until they are familiar to me.
At first, I don’t sing – I just breathe. But I can hear the women behind me adding their voices. I can feel the vibrations of the wood behind my back as it hums with the voices of those on either side of me.
And I realize then that none of us can choose not to sing: we are one voice.
– – –
A line forms down the middle aisle, more shadowed bodies, moving slowly toward the cross. The line never seems to end, and I am sure the number who pass by my pew is greater than the number of people in the whole sanctuary. I cannot see what happens when they get to the front altar, but my heart tugs, so finally, I join the line myself.
We move slowly in the dark, and it feels almost like being carried by the ocean. I pass a picture of Jesus, lit from below by three candles – his face is the only face that is visible in the whole room.
When we get to the cross, we kneel, curling our bodies all the way down, bending until our foreheads and fingers touch the wood. I don’t know how long I’m there, and I’m sure that when I raise my head, the line will have stopped, and I will be last.
But, of course, the line is endless, and more shadows come take my place, come to join their prayers.
– – –
I get back to my seat, and soon it is time for us to go. Before we do, we rise as one, without cue, and hold hands. “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,” we sing, “Yesterday, today and forever.” Across the whole sanctuary, no one is alone then. No one’s hands are empty, no one’s voices still. The room swells, the roof lifts, the walls soften.
And then, we are just people again, just people in a darkened sanctuary. The sisters file out, and the gentle chatter resumes as we collect our things and feel our way to the doors.
Outside the night is crisp and clear and I can see all the way to the twinkly stars hanging high and far away. It seems as though the world has not changed a bit in the last hour.
But I know that it has.
– – –
Note: This was written as a reflection of my experience with Taize worship at Mercy Center. If you are unfamiliar with Taize, you can learn more about it by clicking on the above link.