(a revised version of this post is now at The Exponent.)
For the second week in a row now I have found myself in the embarrassing position of weeping in public, and I am trying to unravel what is it the root of it. It started last Sunday at the Episcopalian church I visited. The service itself, while heavily Christian, was a liberal interpretation that resonated with me and I felt the spirit during it. Then it came time for partaking of the Eucharist. Now, I had been looking forward to this, was really curious about it and hoping it would be acceptable for a visitor to participate, because I wanted to experience it. Sort of like trying some new foreign food.
I was relieved when it was made very clear that this Eucharist was open to anyone who wanted it... and then became completely baffled when I began to weep uncontrollably as I stood to walk to the front (I was just one in a crowd of people moving up to the alter). Perhaps you know the feeling, tears start pouring down your face and your breath becomes erratic and your face muscles start trying to contort and you are doing everything you can to be discrete and keep it hidden from everyone around you. Yeah, that was what happened. And inside I was thinking... "...huh?!?" Up at the front, we knelt on a padded bench and a priest came and put a small thin round wafer in each of our hands and said "body of Christ" (or something like that) and at this point I am trying to hard to keep it under control, but my weeping is obvious to anyone who looks at my face. Then the priest comes around with a cup of wine for us to dip the wafer in. "Blood of Christ". And I ate it and wept. Back at my pew it took me a good while to stem the flood. And the whole time I am thinking "Get a Grip!!!" It wasn't a bad feeling. Actually felt pretty good and clean afterwards. Just embarrassing. And baffling. What was that?
Then yesterday I visited a United Congregational Church. Totally different feel from the Episcopalians, no vaulted ceilings, no crosses, no biblically themed stained-glass, no elegant pews with folding down pads for kneeling. It was rather plain with folding chairs, some stylized "unify-the-world" type paintings and a rock band set up at the front. The service had lots of music, a reading from the Book of Acts and a sermon by the pastor (a friendly funny woman) about leaving the Comfortable in order to follow God. Still Christian themed, but much looser than the Episcopalian sermon. It was all actually very inspiring and I felt the spirit strongly again. At this church a big loaf of crusty french bread was used instead of a wafer, and it was dipped in grape juice instead of wine, and there was none of the pomp and ceremony of the Eucharist ritual. But once again I found myself getting a tiny bit teary-eyed as I waited with the other parishioners for my bit of "Jesus snack". Not much, nothing like last week, just a little wet around the eyes. "Cool" I though, "I got this under control". Until it was my turn and this friendly funny young woman tore off a piece of bread, put it in my hand and said "even for you". And I sort of crumpled, and tears started pouring out.
What is this?
So I have been wondering why this ritual of the bread and wine is doing this to me. It's crossed my mind that a part of it may be the active participation required, the need to stand up and go get it, which, especially as a visitor unfamiliar with the process heightens the emotional vulnerability. (I wonder if I went to a church where it was passed around in a similar fashion to the LDS church, would I still find myself overcome with tears?)
But I think it also has a lot to do with a real craving for sacred ceremony, for spiritual ritual. I was always very aware that the sacrament was supposed to be that, but even when I was trying really hard to focus and ponder the atonement it seemed the bread and water would come and go in a haze of a routine rendered invisible because of it's familiarity. And more recently it had merely become an uncomfortable moment: should I take it? If I do, will the bishop try to intervene? Actually, I think the yearning more closely aligns with what I sought for in the temple. In fact, the last time I remember weeping in church like this was this past November, the 18th to be precise- I was sitting in Sunday School and had the strong impression that I should give up my temple recommend. When I had that thought and knew it was a true one, I began to weep and beat a hasty exist from the class. Those weren't good tears, those ones hurt. Yet, at that point attending the temple had been arduous and painful for quite some time, not a place of solace or spirituality for me at all. But it was my only available outlet for a spiritual ritual. For a sacred ceremony.
It's just an educated guess, but I think perhaps my emotional response to the communion of these faiths is relief at finding an alternate venue for some form of meaningful ordinance.
And I'd like to keep exploring that. But seriously... I hope to be able to keep the emotions under check next time. Please!