As I pull into the parking lot of the Lutheran church, the first stop on my journey (well, second if you count the monastery), I’m nervous. I have comedian Dana Carvey’s character, “Church Lady,” in my head. Carvey says he based her on the women in the Lutheran church he attended growing up. Prim and judgmental, I can picture her interrogating me. “You’ve decided to attend church after all these years? And you’re how old? Well, isn’t that special?”
For the sake of comparison, I’ve constructed an elaborate daydream of what it must have been like to be a churchgoer back in Luther’s day—before he rebelled against the system and pressed for changes. In this little daydream, I am a regular lady of the town of medieval Wittenberg (where Luther lived), a “hausfrau” going about her daily chores when the church bells toll, indicating to those of us without personal timepieces that services will begin imminently. I corral my wayward pig and tighten the strings on my bodice and begin the ten minute walk to church.
By the time I arrive, it’s packed. In the front, at the altar, the priests and other church officials have begun the ceremonial rituals: the movements and prayers that look familiar to me, as I have witnessed them performed my entire life. Even so, I have no idea what they mean as the words are in Latin, a language only the educated elite study (basically just the “men of the cloth”). So I sit quietly, enjoying the intonation of their voices. Candles flicker and robes swish. I inhale the woody aroma of the incense, and appreciate the smell even as the smoke further obscures my already poor view of the holy stuff happening up front.
Of course, hausfrau me has never actually read the Bible, as it has yet to be translated into common languages from Greek and Latin, but I have been told about God, the ruler of the universe, and it is my understanding that I can do specific things to please Him. For example, I can give money to one of the traveling religious officials collecting donations to take back to headquarters in Rome and, depending on how much I give, the number of days that I have to wait to get into heaven after I die will be reduced. Money well spent, if you ask me, as I will have an official certificate of this purgatory-reducing transaction.
But the most important thing I can do, in my humble hausfrau opinion, is to attend church services and participate in the holiest of the holy: communion. This is when the priests turn bread and wine into the real flesh and blood of Jesus and, by consuming them, a person ingests God—this merging with the divine is where an individual is meant to feel closest to the Supreme Being. Not that I get to eat the bread and wine myself, mind you. The elements are too precious to be handled by regular people. What if the wine spills? That would be Jesus’ blood! The good men in robes must grow close to Him on our behalf.
A tap on the shoulder snaps me from my medieval revelry. “You forgot this,” says a bright-eyed woman. I look at her offering. “Today’s program,” she says. Ah, the Xerox machine: just one of the many ways the church-going experience has become more accessible since Luther’s time.