I sit in the car outside and notice it’s quiet.
I mean, quiet. There’s a true void where sound might tend to be. Here in the hills away from town, away from the highway, away from activity, the silence makes my ears ring. It tears away with the bell’s toll and I make my way inside.
A brother greets me — by name, though it’s been three weeks since we spoke. I feel welcome. He begins pulling books for me and I ask the secret to knowing which. He smiles and turns to the center to decode the sign for me. “Oh dear, the board is gone.”
He shows me where to read the weeks, how to find the days, and tells me there will be no hymn today. “Our organist is away.”
This same brother will hold the massive book of Scripture and prayers whenever the priest reads from it. And he will carry it the full length of the room to place it on the lectern when the time comes. Here I am conflicted. The sacredness with which these men handle the Word of God puts my tendency to drop my Bible onto the desk or toss it onto the car seat or stuff it into my backpack a bit to shame. But at the same time it seems to hold it at a safe distance. It has to be carried in a special way by a special person and can’t sit here with me in the pew. Inaccessible comes to mind.
Is there a middle ground? Something not so cavalier yet still within reach?
The inner turmoil won’t last long before we’re reading from the Psalter and I fall into it. Hearing the words, slow-paced, deliberate, echoing off the walls and pews like the leather of a drum stretched taut.
This is where he meets me, time and time again. All this place is unknown and my ignorance bleeds a trail with every step. But meeting him in the quiet place where the Word is all one hears, this I’ll always know though even on foreign soil.
In this slow reading, where the monotone drags, the Word speaks its own drama, unaided by cosmetics of human inflection. Its authority is gentle. Its crispness strangely soothing.