This past Sunday at the Anchorage UU Fellowship, our 11 a.m. service was a “revival,” and I almost missed it.
I had a bout of insomnia on Saturday night, and almost chose not to make the drive north on one of Alaska’s most dangerous roads. Just before I finally got to sleep, I decided that I wouldn’t set an alarm, but I’d go to church if I woke up early enough. And that’s what happened. I got to church with enough time to be button-holed by a few people, and still be in my seat when things got started.
And start it did! Our minister announced that the service was going to be a revival, said a few words about that, and then we started singing, and singing, and singing some more. Simple songs, set in singable keys, words projected on the wall. It was funny to watch my fellow UUs tentatively sit down between each song. You could almost see them thinking, “Surely we’re done now, right?”
The sermon, if it makes sense to call it that, was a series of short experiences, interspersed with more singing. One of the pieces of the “sermon” was a guided meditation about connection and relationship. Our minister invited us to close our eyes and imagine our connections to the people in the room, and then beyond.
I found myself imagining those connections like the strings on a violin–taut, vibrating, singing. My mind played with that, and as I imagined my connection to my family, the image changed. The deepest, fattest string on a double bass was connected to me, but instead of stretching out to my family, it lay curled up, tangled, limp.
It was a powerful image, and it gave me important information. I have often felt like I was the one who dropped the connection, but in the image, the string was connected to me, and loose on the other end. The image told me that I’ve done what I can.
Another of the experiences during the service was “communion.” Everything about it felt weird. There was a big loaf of bread, grapes—and orange sections. There was a hand sanitizer station before the bread. It felt strange, and I didn’t want to participate.
But our minister talked about communion’s deeper, older meaning, the one that’s about community and connection and relationship. And I love those things, and long for them, so I decided to give it a shot. While I waited in line, I found community with another reluctant participant, and it was fun to laugh about it together.
I got my squirt of hand sanitizer, and tried to get it dry before tearing off a piece of bread. I chose an orange section, rather than a grape, and headed back for my seat. It felt familiar, this ritual of walking back to my seat with a small pieces of food in my hand, but the faint sense of familiarity didn’t prepare me for what happened when I ate the piece of bread.
I sat down, put the bread in my mouth, began to chew–and suddenly I was back in all the place where I’ve ever taken communion. In that bread was almost thirty years of religious history. My body literally shuddered from the impact.
It was a strange and powerful morning. Intentionally chaotic, disjointed, lively. The kind of religious ritual that says, “Don’t get too comfortable there, because we’re going to move.” And move me it did.
I’m glad I didn’t miss the revival.