Today we split into two groups again – seems to be a theme of much of this trip – to go worship in two churches. On Wednesday we met Padre Hector, who is the new priest for this area; with me visiting they have two priests around, which is a rare luxury for them. Hector was committed to be at Espiritu Santo in Santa Rita today, but the congregation at Santa Maria Virgen asked if I would be willing to come have Holy Eucharist with them. I was honored to be asked. So some of us went to Santa Rita, and some of us went up the hill to San Pedrito, and all of us did church.
I do not speak Spanish. I wasn’t at all sure how the Communion at Santa Maria Virgen would go. But the Book of Common Prayer says the same things, whether in English or Spanish or French; and I know the Holy Eucharist in English well enough that I could match phrase to phrase in the Spanish Prayer Book and figure out what the text said. Before this trip I looked up videos on YouTube of the Eucharist in Spanish and listened carefully for pronunciation and rhythm. When we had met Hector, I’d thought all this preparation would not be put to the test. But now a new opportunity had arisen, a different community that wanted a priest, a community we had been working with and building with and hoping with – and saying Yes to their invitation to come for Communion was suddenly and inevitably a no-brainer.
Still, as the congregation gathered and the service began, I was, well, nervous. I knew what the text said, I knew what the prayers meant; but my pronunciation was bound to be off, and my reading was sure to be halting, and I wasn’t at all sure that I could get all those words out of my mouth.
Perhaps this was just perfectionism, just my besetting sin of wanting to get everything right and good and beyond reproach. But I also care deeply about the sacrament, and the liturgy, and the holy words of prayer that invite and implore the presence of the Holy Spirit to uplift us and uphold us and make us more like Jesus in love and deed. These words mean a lot to me – these words mean eveything to me – and I did not want my poor performance of these words to get in the way of these good people’s prayers. I was nervous.
During the reading of the Epistle, a few words suddenly stood out for me. I know today’s passage from Romans passably well, and I can hear and recognize a few Spanish words. And suddenly in the reading I heard loud and clear la palabra esta en tu corazon, “the word is in your heart.” Now, those words don’t appear exactly together in the actual text – I know, I went back later and checked – but in that moment I heard them and understood them, as if they’d been picked out of the main reading just for me: The word is in your heart.
And I realized that was the important thing. The Word of God, the Word that is Jesus, the Word that is the work and fruit of prayer, is in the heart. We have lots of other words, words for our mouths, words to ponder in our minds, words that are in English and words that are in Spanish, words that we string together in rites and liturgies that can guide our wandering thoughts into larger vistas, draw our aimless feelings into deeper devotions. Those words matter. But the reason they matter is because they lead us to the Word, the living Word, and that Word is in the heart.
And that Word was in the hearts of each and all of us, as we sat on our plastic chairs in the unfinished cinder block lower level of Santa Maria Virgen. That Word was in the heart of all of us as we listened to the words of Romans – words that some of us only partly and remotely understood. And that Word was in the hearts of each and all of us as we blessed the bread and poured the wine, just as Jesus did, in order to remember that we are members of his Body. And it didn’t matter if my pronunciation was off or my rhythm was strange or my reading was halting. The Word was in my heart, and that was what gave meaning to the words of my mouth, and that was what was heard and felt and prayed by the people, Americanos and Copanecos alike, who came to that table. The words mattered, and they mattered because the Word is in our heart.
I think that is one of the great gifts of liturgy: that it gives us words for our mouths that lead us into knowing the Word in our hearts. And it amazes me how liturgy does that blessed work in so many ways: in great cathedrals, in historic churches with beautiful stained glass windows, in hospital rooms, in parishioners’ homes, on summer lawns, in cinder block shells. In English, in Spanish, in Kreyol, in Navajo, in Japanese – in any language spoken among any people of faith. It is a gift how liturgy can open up and reveal something new, after years of familiarity, that is just what you need for just one moment in just one situation.
On this Sunday, as the Body of Christ worships across the world, among many peoples of many tongues, I pray that the words of liturgy will lead you deeper into the Word in your heart, and that you can carry that word within you in all the places you will go this week.