By Nalu Concepcion
THE WORD // unanswerables
slip into the church three minutes late, 9:33 p.m. sharp — your usual sunday ritual. your right hand falls into the basin of holy water next to the hymnals, and your left hand slides one off the shelf, tucks it under your arm. you pad silently to the edge of an unoccupied pew. as you are about to enter it, full-body muscle memory seizes you. you turn to face the front of the church.
right knee down
in the name
right hand to forehead
of the father
and of the son
to left shoulder
and of the holy
to right shoulder
right knee up,
feel the cold blessed water on your forehead, reminding you to reflect on your purpose of attending this service. you think of signs you’ve seen hanging around campus with rectangular strips frayed with paper teeth at the bottoms, offering hope, strength, forgiveness, calm, peace, reading “take what you need”. what if you don’t have what i need?
the first part of the mass is built around hearing the word of God.
this is your time to listen, turn inward, focus on what is being asked of you. you are so used to being in a perpetually self-absorbed state, but now is an opportunity to pay attention to what you are being instructed to do rather than on what you would prefer to do. prayer is not only a plea for more, more, more.
appreciate the rituals of the service, the once-weekly mandatory observance meant as an homage to the Creator—another exercise in blind faith. you wonder for a moment where your prayers go when you form them; you imagine a high stack of petitions and demands towering high on God’s desk. have you ever sent one up signed “thank you” instead of “please?”
as you listen to the priest lead the congregation in self-reflection, in prayer, in thanksgiving, consider your own connectedness to the doctrine and the community. do you still believe?
a qualified lector then reads the designated passages of the day.
you briefly fantasize that you are the priest standing in front of the congregation, responsible for piecing apart God’s (purported) Word to be more palatable for modernists, more compatible with secular culture. what would you tell the congregation, if you had the chance?
you’ve grown tired of hearing the same parables told to you, time and time again. you idly page through a bible tucked into the pew in front of you; your glance falls on proverbs chapter 14, verse one: the wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.
you reflect on the phone call to your parents just an hour before this service—your nightly confession. you told them about how you feel uneasy in your new environment, how you are wavering in your decision to study engineering. how your classes feel unrewarding and disinteresting at times; you shared how you feel like you are being ungrateful not only of the opportunities you have been granted, but also of the people who surround you, people who you know love you, how even though you know you truly care about them too, you don’t truly feel understood or able to connect with many of them. you confess for the first time that ultimately, you feel unfulfilled, unsure of yourself, and uneasy in a place you don’t yet recognize as home. how am i supposed to build a home if i haven’t even broken land?
THE EUCHARIST // stream of subconscious
baskets are passed to collect offerings.
you always forget to bring money to the services, so instead you offer God vulnerability.
when i came to visit cornell, i didn’t know what to look for, what to expect. i met up with one of my best friends to explore campus. despite his busy schedule of 23 credits, multiple clubs, a startup, and all of his social commitments, he spent an entire afternoon ambling around campus to show me the countless dining halls, libraries, cafes, food trucks, people, nooks and crannies. he shared with me many of the stories he’d aggregated over his past few months here; he’d hit the ground sprinting.
our final stop was the fifth floor of the johnson museum, right around 6 p.m. when the elevator doors opened, the room glowed orange and golden, like a clear evening golden hour. he stepped out, and i followed. my eyes slid over to the curved glass window, panning across the panoramic view of the finger lake and all over cornell’s buildings, each cluster a new hodge-podge of an architectural era. something about the way the sunlight hit all the buildings made me see them each as the same. in that moment, a place i knew would become home for me (no promises of when); because of that memory, i felt comfortable enough to be sure that cornell could be my place. that i could make it mine.
i am so grateful for that day, God, and i am so grateful for my chance to make a new home here. please help me remember that very first day meeting cornell, the very first time seeing the place in its entirety, whenever i doubt myself or my place here.
as you leave, you sign yourself the same way you did when you entered the church 57 minutes prior.
your hand falls from
your right shoulder to
Lord, hear my prayer. amen.