I picked up Doah, my mentally challenged youngest son, at his group home yesterday evening for the Easter vigil at Old Mission Church here in San Ignatio. It is always a beautiful service with the lighting of the paschal candle from the fire pit by the garden and then the lighting of everyone's candles from the paschal candle. It is an evening of hope and expectation, a movement from dark into light. So much symbolism in one Mass!
Doah looked forward to it because his friend, Bennie, would be there. Bennie is one of my friends who has adopted a mentor/father attitude toward Doah, always ready to talk to him, taking him fishing, and hanging out with him at times. Doah adores Bennie and loves sitting with him at the mission. Doah could hardly wait for the evening to arrive.
So, decked out appropriately, Doah and I arrived promptly at the mission at the starting hour. The church was quite filled, but Doah easily found Bennie and slipped in beside him. Then we all exited for the beginning of the Mass around the fire pit. After our candles were lit, we paraded back inside and listened to the opening music and readings.
As I sat, listening and enjoying this once-a-year-only Mass, Doah slid into the pew beside me. His eyes were watery.
"Mom," he said, "I can't stay. I am allergic to the church."
We had experienced this before. The mission is 200+ years old, and Doah is allergic to mold. There are times that it seems that mold must be getting into the air. At the end of a week that had seen some rain in our normally near-drought, could-easily-become-desert area it was not surprising that perhaps more mold than usual was breaking out into the air.
"Shh," I told Doah. "Wait a few minutes and see if it the problem passes. Don't rub your eyes; just wait and see if they clear up." I did not have much hope that he would get better, but it was worth a little wait, anyway, or so I thought.
No sooner had Doah disappeared toward the front of the church -- I was farther back -- to rejoin Bennie than I heard that Voice I have come to trust and obey say, "Take him home."
When Doah popped up beside me just a few minutes later, still with red, watery eyes, and complained that he was not getting any better, I did as I had been told. I took him home.
Once we were in the outside cooler air, Doah's eyes cleared up. I could have called Donnie to pick us up, but the night was clear, cool (but not cold), and just the right place to spend some time walking together with Doah in the presence of God. (One immediately feels God's presence anywhere in San Ignatio.) And so Doah and I walked all the way home, about a mile or less (never have measured the distance from our home on the hill to the mission in the valley), mostly in silence, mostly in worship, our own little worship service.
How kind is God, I thought! He gave us an alternative way of spending Easter vigil and one in which we were as close to Him as we would have been had we stayed for the entire Mass. Clearly, worship is not about ritual, it is about relationship. And that was made clear in the words, "Take him home." Taking Doah home was not about walking away from God but rather about walking with God. It was a very good Easter vigil yesterday after all.