On Piety

  I’ve never been a church-going person.  When I was little the only church in my area was the Mormon temple down the street.  I went to Episcopal school for the first half of my elementary school education, though – we had chapel there.  The chapel had stained glass windows carved into bold primary colors.  These windows were not like the ones I would later see in Paris, ornately embellished,  saints and angels and divine ebullience all delicately woven together in a beautiful but fragile expression.  The St. Michael’s chapel windows had these large chunks of glass with rough edges, sharp corners, mottled surfaces arranged in deliberate geometric patterns. They did not so much represent Gospel stories as suggested them, twin slivers of glass, upraised arms, in a sea of green shards, Gesthemane.  The day school at St. Michael’s had chapel once a month for the whole student body.  For me, going to church was not an obligation, but a privilege and opportunity – the chapel was a sacred space in the most mystical way, a building of mysterious secrets and epic scale, a Norman cathedral in a Sacramento suburb.  I remember sneaking into the chapel after school and exploring, hiding in the janitorial closet, reaching up to touch the altar and then shying away, afraid I might disturb the clean white cloth.  This was church for me – a solitary journey into the quiet experience of the sacred in colored light.

  Thus it’s always been hard for me to personally commit to a community of faith in a pious way, as the core of my spiritual practice is rooted in individual contemplation and self-reflection. I’m accustomed to finding peace not in collective belief, but in the depth of my convictions, the goodness of things in and of themselves, what St. Ignatius calls the spiritual consolation of our actions.   I don’t think this is, in and of itself, a bad thing – cloistered monks and sojourning Jesuits have been doing it for hundreds of years.  But, I’m always curious to see what I’m missing.  I’ve always loved searching for new experiences; I think that’s why I love stories so much.  What kind of writer would I be if I didn’t give other forms of spiritual expression a chance?  Perhaps stepping out of my religious comfort zone is my next big journey – if it is, it’s one I can’t wait to see.  Perhaps the value of stained glass windows is not in the glass itself, but in the way the light pierces it in all its faceted forms.

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