When he walked through the entrance, I gripped my kids a little tighter. Glen did not hang back like the others, waiting for the Liturgy’s conclusion to ask for a dollar, a bus pass, or the canned food and bottled water kept next door for distributing to those in need. “Again?” I cringed, as he made a beeline toward the front and center of the sanctuary, hoarsely whispering random greetings along the way.
Not intimidated by the length or sobriety of the service, Glen brushed off his novitiate and cannon balled into an unknown experience while the rest of us stared dumbfounded, waiting for somebody, anybody, to blow the whistle. Wandering into the choir, he sang boldly his own renditions of “Holy God” and the “Cherubic Hymn”. From there he would make the rounds, kissing saints like long lost companions. Eventually, he’d move back to his front row vantage point where he would plant his feet, raising his eyes and hands toward heaven; a glittering rhinestone embedded within a conservative string of pearls.
It is not at all surprising to me that those weeks with Glen fell squarely in the middle of Lent, right when I needed to be concentrating most on my penitence. The pre-sanctified Liturgies on Friday evenings have always been a particular favorite of mine. “Let my prayer arise,” we sing on bended knee, “in Thy sight as incense. And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” Of the handful of people in attendance, Glen would inevitably be one of them, always disheveled with the lingering odor of stale alcohol following close behind. We gasped as he fumbled up the stairs to venerate Christ and the Theotokos, whose icon stared down at us austerely from altar doors.
My heart raced with the inappropriateness of everything Glen said, did, and did not do. When the rest of us would kneel, he sprawled out flat, face down, just like a bear skin rug. It didn’t seem fair that he could waltz in and ruin this for me, me who had followed the Church’s guidelines with dedication. His wet eyes and undecipherable mumblings were distracting me from mourning my sins and receiving the comfort of God’s mercy.
It took awhile for me to actually notice he was gone. After four consecutive weeks of Glenn-free Sundays, however, we began to theorize on his absence. But having no address or phone number to work with, we were stuck with those theories instead of answers. It did seem puzzling, why he would come so regularly and so passionately, and then just disappear. I prayed for Glen and let it go. He became legendary to us who remembered him, and fodder for many an amusing anecdote.
Truth be told, I was thankful for Glen’s absence. I could breath again in Church, not having to fret over his unpredictable responses to the hymns, litanies, and Scripture readings. I felt relief at getting back to our uninterrupted, orderly worship; much like Simon the Pharisee must have felt when that filthy harlot finally packed up her empty perfume bottle, peeled her grimy fingers off his houseguest, and meandered out his door into oblivion.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” Blessed are they who have lived through the horrors of their own bad decisions and carry their sins like a ball and chain. Blessed are they who throw off all inhibitions, foraging bloodstained through the crowd, for the unbiased hem of Christ’s garment. Blessed are we reeking of liquor, ravaged of purity, and steeped in the shame of spiritual arrogance, but who weep bitter tears of regret. For we shall indeed be comforted by He in whose image every one of us were created.