liturgical syntax errors

At the Hirshhorn that afternoon I touched my hands to glowing glass sensors that converted my pulse into ripples across a shallow pool. Soft blue lighting turned these streams into a play of light across the wall, interrupted or completed by the silhouettes of passing museumgoers. It’s impossible to know how much of the light show came from my own heart, and how much from the archive of patrons who had participated before me. But the surge in activity spoke for itself. It was a wonderful thing to stand inside my own heartbeat, to trap dozens of unwitting strangers in there with me, to watch my anxiety be made mesmerizing, to be not-alone with it.

Earlier that day I’d attended the much-heralded baptism of a much-loved little boy. There was a snake outside on the sidewalk. It was still there when we returned to the parking lot afterwards. We joked about it striking our heels, our crushing its head. But nothing happened, of course. It was at rest.

I have thought about that little snake for weeks now. I think of it every time I do my coding homework—we’re learning Python, because God likes to make me laugh. When our instructors introduced us to for loops, they said look, how convenient, computers will do all those boring tasks humans won’t. They’ll do the same task over and over again no matter how repetitive. Just make sure you don’t introduce any syntax errors that will interrupt the loop. Then the program won’t run. (When a program doesn’t run you get a blank screen, black terminal, pensive command line, awaiting your instruction, no results to share. It’s so peaceful to look at. I wish I could do that.)

I wish it were true that humans were so bored by repetition that we made computers to sub in for us. There is no limit to the nonsense over which my brain is willing to iterate, frittering my energy away over the minute absurdities that make up a given day. It is exhausting. I am so tired of un-learning this chatter. I wish I would run up against a syntax error that would shut my brain down until we can figure out what is going on.

The mass, that’s what I’m describing. Every day God throws me a syntax error in the form of the mass. It’s at precisely the same time every day, in the only window of time I always have free, in a chapel that’s on my way to everywhere. God interrupts the loop with a quick hello. I kneel, and it’s quiet, and it’s the only place where there is no alternate priority, nowhere for my automatic worrying to go. It is the one absolute space, the objectively better part. In lieu of the recessional we call upon St. Michael the Archangel.

And then we go out into a world full of snakes to crush, loops to break, such loud and full screens. He loves it though, all of it. He makes light shows out of anxious heartbeats and invites everyone else inside. None of this is for me alone.

Published by Catherine Addington

I am a translator from Spanish to English and a writer on saints, myths, and icons in both religious and secular contexts.

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