My phone rang and rang and rang on Christmas Eve -- my local line, I mean -- and I knew why Eldon's residents were calling. They wanted to invite me to church. Worried about me spending the holiday alone, my new Eldonite friends were doing what I've experienced them do best: demonstrate kindness, compassion and generosity. And as kind, compassionate and generous as their invitations were, I was not interested in going to church. Period.
Church and I were never great pals. Subjected to a Catholic education (Sunday Mass, the scriptures, the prayers, the rituals, the GUILT, et al), the only reason I got confirmed -- or allowed to graduate from my parochial high school for that matter -- was because my dad was a reliable donor and my mom worked for the diocese. I knew -- really KNEW – as early as age 12, when I had to fight for my feminist right to serve as an altar girl, that this political, er, religious institution was not going to be my source of spiritual fulfillment.
So instead of answering my phone only to decline the many invitations to the 6PM candlelit service at the Living Hope Bible Church, I went down to my basement.
Now I realize that spending Christmas Eve alone in one’s basement sounds a little depressing, potentially scary, questionable, even dangerous – after all, suicide rates skyrocket during the holidays and I am a grieving widow... But no. My bike (mounted on the Blackburn Trakstand bike trainer) is in the basement. So while the rest of Eldon attended their church, I attended mine.
Just as making pie is my therapy and therefore my kitchen is my therapist's office, my basement is my church. My body is my temple. My bike is my God. I could have been sitting in a pew for an hour watching candles burn. Instead I was sitting on my bike seat, burning calories.
Instead of singing Christmas hymns, I sang along to Coldplay and pedaled to the French techno groove of my Buddha Bar collection. For good measure, though not a great biking song, I even played the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. (Yes, I have a very eclectic mix of music.)
Instead of being in a room packed with people I don’t know all that well -- a potentially lonely experience, actually lonelier than being alone -- I was getting to know myself better, tuning in to every muscle fiber and oxygenated blood cell, every thought, every breath.
Churches are a place for some to find strength. For me, someone whose heart was shattered 16 months ago with the unexpected death of my husband Marcus, biking literally strengthens my heart. My goal is to be the Lance Armstrong of grieving widows, and that kind of salvation doesn't come from listening to a preacher on the pulpit. Exercise is a moving meditation. And meditation is a form of prayer. Prayer is considered spiritual worship. And therefore I was, to all intents and purposes, like a good Eldonite, worshipping.
I’m not sure how congregation members felt after church, but I felt GREAT after my bike ride. I took a long candlelit bath afterward. And then I talked to my family via a Skype video call. Really, it was the best Christmas I could have hoped for. You know, considering...
I’m continuing to enjoy some solitude this holiday week. So if I don’t answer my phone, please don’t worry about me. I’m probably just in the basement -- going to church.