Life and art always mingle, so here’s a bit of a novel whose idea had its birth in my experience of the Anglican church. This idea actually came to me the first time I ever visited one back in Nashville, and this was a sort of idea scene that just came together. Hopefully all these ideas will resolve themselves into one flowing story eventually.
The priest said the blessing and broke the bread. The ushers came forward, and the people began to file out row by row. Usually there was a soft murmur of conversation while the people waited their turn to kneel, but not today. There was a strange hush surrounding them; few spoke, and the sanctuary seemed filled from red carpet to beamed roof with an almost tangible presence of quiet that bade voices be still, and movements hushed. Even the piano seemed quiet in its gentle song. Only the priest and acolytes spoke, moving from soul to kneeling soul, their hands moving slowly in blessing, their robes swishing lightly against the carpet.
The quiet grew heavy and present, surrounding the people with an invisible force that had the uncomfortable effect of turning their thoughts deeply inward. Some seemed uneasy in its presence. The well-dressed woman rebelled against it, clearing her throat, moving from foot to foot in restlessness. Anna was awed by it, dropping her eyes from the high altar, and holding her hands to her heart as if something was pressing against her. The old man welcomed it as a familiar friend, and closed his watery eyes that it might rest his old soul as it had so often done before.
The line moved slowly, for the people seemed to linger. Prayers were longer with this cloak of silence to still them. Finally the woman reached the altar, just as her stifled impatience burned her cheeks crimson. She knelt hastily and stuck out stiff hands to receive the bread. She ate quickly and again reached impatiently for the chalice. But as it was almost in her fingers, a slight noise made her hesitate before taking it.
Someone had slipped in late; a stream of sunlight burst upon the silence and then slowly faded. The late man walked swiftly forward and joined the line as the hush descended once more.
But the merest breath of wind had crept in around him. It swirled slowly up the aisle, caressing the hot faces of the waiting people. It reached the impatient woman and cooled the fires in her cheeks, breathing kindly round her warm hands as they grasped the sacred cup. She suddenly felt the coolness of the silver on her fingers, and she lifted the cup to her lips more slowly than she had the bread. Something in the lightness of the breeze bade her look upward. Her eyes met the gaze of the crucified Christ in the stained window above the altar, and a trembling woke a fear in her heart that she had not known since childhood.
This is My blood…
The warm wine caressed her throat and glided near her heart.
Shed for you…
For once, her eyes really closed in prayer, and she knelt much longer than was her wont.
Beside her knelt Anna, her gray eyes large. She too felt the gentle touch of the wind. It brought a tingling to her arms and cheeks; it surrounded her with a bracing cool, like that of starlit air. Her hands also trembled as she took the holy bread, but it was because of the tears brimming in her eyes. Holding the piece of bread in her cupped hands, she lifted her eyes to those of Jesus as He suffered on the cross. The nails in His hands made her blanch.
This is My body…
She ate the bread.
Broken for you…
A tingling rush came over her face, and she lifted her hands to cheeks that burned. She found herself trembling, caught between the coolness of the wind and the heat of her heart, and suddenly, she realized that tears were covering her cheeks. She drank of the wine and realized that her heart had just been broken. But the breaking was sweeter than any former wholeness had been, for it had broken in love.
Still the gentle wind moved among the people, touching faces and hands, stimulating hearts, making a trembling in their very souls. A tiny bit of a girl smiled as the cool blew the wisps of hair from her face. A father brought his baby closer to the warmth of his arms as the air glided by. At the altar, the wind blessed the hands of the priest, and his movements became stronger, his voice yet gentler.
No one in all that grand sanctuary was safe from that wildly gentle wind.
Copyright Sarah Clarkson, 2005