On West 107th between Broadway and Amsterdam there is a neighborhood Catholic Church whose doors are almost always open. This morning (Sunday) I heard a familiar hymn as I walked by. Protestants and Catholics don’t always sing the same hymns, but this one I recognized from my Methodist upbringing. I followed a Southeast Asian couple (Indian? Pakistani?) up the shallow steps. From the back of the church I saw Hispanics, Westerners, and an African couple in native dress. Up the aisle came a short procession of two altar boys and a priest, singing heartily. The priest pronounced his words in an Irish brogue. I moved out of their way, closer to the pews. What surprised me was the emotion I felt. I loved the congregation, the song, the Irish priest and his singing. I loved the sacred space and the stained-glass windows. This is just a little church, not far from Columbia University, not far from Harlem, sparsely attended. How I loved everything about it — until I heard the prayer and the name of Jesus and the words of an embarrassing tribal God and his Son. (See? I still capitalize “Son.”)
I love the nostalgic return to Sunday worship. Oh, what is a nonbeliever to do when confronted by so much beauty embedded in religion? How is one supposed to ignore the havoc religion wreaks?