I Joined a Church for the Casseroles
And for the community that came with them
My father and I were always the early risers. On Saturday morning at 7 a.m., I was usually sitting on a kitchen stool eating a bowl of Shredded Wheat. My father was a few feet away from me, sitting “lotus-style” on the window seat. He donned robes that used to be black, but after multiple decades had resigned themselves to a milky gray.
Amidst snaking pillars of incense, my father closed his eyes and for 20 minutes he simply sat there and breathed. Then he started chanting — deep, throaty chants — while kneeling on the floor and bowing repeatedly.
Growing up, my father’s weekend Buddhist rituals were about the closest thing I ever had to church.
Even though my Catholic and Jewish friends always complained about church or synagogue, I have to admit, I was a little jealous. They had a common bond, not to mention a whole group of other friends outside of school.
Then my best friend invited me to a Catholic service one Sunday, and my initial excitement wore off quickly. I didn’t know any of the songs, and people were endlessly standing up and sitting down. I just wanted to sit. The following year, I would begin to attend friends’ bar mitzvahs and realize that despite the supposedly intractable differences between the world’s major religions, they all shared rituals that involved a lot of standing up and sitting down.
I tried to follow what the Catholic priest was saying, but I wasn’t familiar with any of the characters in his stories, except of course for Jesus, who was prominently displayed behind him, starving to death on the cross.
I really didn’t like looking at that emaciated chest and those bloody hands. While traveling with my parents in rural England a few summers prior, I had nearly wet the bed at a Bed & Breakfast because going to the bathroom would have meant confronting a larger-than-life Jesus, who was perishing for posterity at the end of the hall.
As the interminable service wore on, church was seeming less and less appealing. But then I noticed a sandy-haired boy about my age looking over at me from further down the pew. He was standing next to a gangly redhead, and they seemed to be conferring with one…