I love the sour smell of churches. Not sour like a gin-and-tonic with too much lime, not sour like a shoe that’s done too much walking, but a musty sour—like years folded over on themselves and hibernated under pews. Like stained glass sweating since its smiles first stretched out, centuries ago.
There is nothing like lingering alone in the sour stillness of the nave, the court where laconic saints converse in whispers. I was there with them a day or two ago, beneath a halo of lights. Of course, she was quiet and still. But there was yet life pulsing in the walls, through the chancel, up into the pointing apse. There was something I was not quite a part of—a flurry of business among the spirits. I wanted to join in conversation, to carry on with whatever heavenly discourse marks life beyond the ages.
So I turned on the PA system, nestling my phone next to its mic, and I began to play a torrent of songs—songs of Taizé. I remember the first one careening past me, bouncing off the blackened panes and up into the empty balcony, cutting the silence. It rang in beautiful cacophonous chorus: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! And then, the fire-soaked hum as cantors held sway, serenading like the Israelites once did with David and a lyre. And with all the nave turned toward the fresh and effervescent hymn, I began to dance—
—to dance without a pattern or rhyme, without reason or rectitude. I twirled in circles and hopped in front of the weary wooden Cross; I whipped my head ’round to see the risen Jesus painted in glass and saw a twinkle in his eye. “Who dances to Alleluias?” I wondered, but not for long. There was too much dancing to do—up and over, around and through every verse, every refrain. I panted, I tripped, collapsing on the steps of the chancel. And there, half on my knees as Alleluias rang, I laughed at all my clumsiness and how it must have been, to God, the essence of grace.
Finally, sadly, I flew to an end like a whirling dervish and stumbled back to the piano. Leaning on her shoulder, I gathered myself, still fit with giggles, and looked out at that once-quiet place. I was sure there were dozens of souls staring wide-eyed at the spectacle, not sure whether to clap or to laugh—or perhaps to quietly fade away.
But I turned, not much caring, and smiled again at the figure of Jesus in a rainbow of glass. He smiled back, I’m almost sure. Almost as sure as I am the epitome of grace.