Janeen is a chef in her 70’s who doesn’t look a day past fifty. She is from New York with an accent and authority to match. After I had taken a few bites of my fresh yogurt and peaches, and doctored my tea just so she announced she was going to Mass, as if, of course, we would all join her. Without much thought, I nodded. Church sounded good to me. Mass though? I admit I felt a little intimidated. Being an English speaking Protestant pastor’s wife, fear of awkwardness has kept me from attending church in Europe where Catholicism dominates. I had been to a few Catholic Mass serviced with dear friends growing up, and that was difficult enough to feel like I fit in and could follow the routines, let alone the idea of trying to follow along in another language. Moments like these are good for me, to remember once again what it is like for someone to think of coming to church with me. I am always seeking to get past the culture of church that would ever make anyone feel like an outsider. There is something so beautiful about ritual though, and I have come to appreciate more and more the Catholic approach to following our shared savior.
Janeen charged us up the cobblestone hill to the church as if we were running late for the F-train to Manhattan.
“I have been to church everywhere I travel to. Synagogues, Mosques, Temples, wherever I can get my God fix while I travel.”
“Oh, I said” a little curious about what Janeen really believed. “So, what kind of church do you attend in New York?”
“Presbyterian” she said “I am a Steven Minister at my church there and attend every Sunday. I have to have my Sabbath.”
I just smiled at her and followed her confident stream into the Cathedral. There I watched her cues, and those of the locals, for the ups and downs and hallelujahs and amens. Themes became evident in the little bit of language I could translate. Then we began to sing and sounds were familiar. My heart started to beat faster and that familiar lump lodged in my throat. I sang through. The words that I stumbled and jumbled over in trying to speak the language flow effortlessly, beautifully even, off my tongue as I sang them. Italian hymns translated in my heart and I was worshipping the God I know intimately, who transcends language and culture, everywhere.
Then the Lord’s Prayer…
Padre nostro che sei nei cieli
sia santificato il tuo nome
venga il tuo regno
sia fatta la tua volontà
come in cielo così in terra.
Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano
Rimetti a noi i nostri debiti
Come noi li rimettiamo ai nostri debitori.
E non ci indurre in tentazione
Ma liberaci dal male.
The familiar rhythmic hum, the same pauses, the purposeful prose of these words enveloped me into this community, reminded me why we do this together, why we gather. Never are we alone. Our God, our same God is with us, and we gather to celebrate and symbolize our trinitarian relational faith..
Padre Nostro translates to “Father Who is Ours” I love that.
Mass was followed by a long shared lunch under an umbrella on a patio in town. We shared the daily special ravioli and a salad as if we’d done it a hundred times before. She tasted my Chardonnay and I took my first sip of the trip of Brunello. After swapping stories about faith, kids, motherhood, careers and passions I was bonded to Janeen for a lifetime. My mother-like God-loving full-of-zest-for-life new friend from the other side of the country, on the other side of the world.