Nonfiction by Erin Lambeth
You’d think they would at least try to make church seats comfortable.
It’s never been a very appealing proposition: wake up early, dress in your finest, get yourself and your family presentably together to sit on hard seats and hear the same metaphors again and again.
I remember being a little kid sitting in my church at home, watching adults pass around the bread and little plastic cups. It’s a very serious affair. You have to remember to draw your eyebrows together; good, now look as solemn as you can while you chew and swallow. Nobody smiles during communion, what were you, raised by wolves?
I used to sit on this church seat dressed in my perfunctory polyester and think about the neutral necessities of the day. We would go home and have family lunch. We sat around the big dinner table on Sundays because, well, it seemed more important, and I guess so did Sundays back then.
I used to fold the napkins the way my mother liked and sit down to lunch, answer questions about the sermon, dress a little nicer; the whole day was more solemn somehow, and always a little melancholy, tinged lozenge-like with familiar liturgies and the kind of loneliness that always visited (and still does) on Sunday afternoons.
I used to sit in church and watch when everyone bowed their heads. From a certain angle, if you’re short enough, they all look decapitated. Sunday after Sunday I would watch all those good church-goers lop off their heads with miraculous glee.
These days when I go to church—that same church, every Sunday— I think about other things. I think about that big dinner table, deep dark brown wood scratched from wear and tear, less visited now by my family. We always talk about getting new chairs, the old ones are worn and ragged, nails poke out of the cushions in spots we’ve learned to avoid. We’ll never get new ones, but we have to talk about it sometimes.
I used to pull up my knees on my chair at home and trace the geometric pattern on the back, imagining a tiny little me running and hiding in the wooden curves as my father’s voice echoed in the background. I lived whole stories in that chair-back in the time after lunch while my father talked about the sermon and asked us questions. He says now that he was trying to get us to remember through repetition. Kids don’t understand at that age; tell them once, again, and again, and one day they will remember and not only remember, but care. That’s the theory, I believe. Except now I have this whole beautiful story in my head, and it still just seems like a story.
These days in church, when I eat the bread and drink the wine, I think about guilt and symbolism. I think about duty. There’s an impatience in this Sabbath air, a question that taps its foot and waits for an answer I can never give. Manna, it seems, is the most nutritional carcinogen. Sitting in that one-room church that seems to know me, I think about how the anger I feel towards this place is really fear. I think about how the vast majority of life is trying to forget how fucking porous everything is.
Mostly, as I raise my head to watch the elders walk back up the aisle to return the trays of bread and wine, I think about how sometimes, things that seem holy are really just far away.
Erin Lambeth is an undergraduate student majoring in Philosophy and Political Science and minoring in English at Grove City College. She was born and raised in Northern Virginia. She has been published in Grove City’s literary magazines The Echo and The Quad, and has written solicited reviews of books such as Ricky Ray’s Fealty.
Photo by Kenny Luo