On a cold and sunny morning last month I met with my fellow sisters in the cultural hall to start preparing for Sister Rodgers funeral. The night before a storm of service volunteers had rolled out and set up more than a dozen round tables and stuffed them with chairs. Our job was to dress the tables, set them and top them with fresh flowers.
As we went about our quiet service–traveling from the Relief Society closet into the kitchen and back out to the hall– we were aided by some willing children along with their mothers (were there bribes involved?). As we worked swiftly the mortuary was on task in the Relief Society room setting up the space for the viewing.
As I was carrying a large sack of rejected table cloths out of the cultural hall I glanced into the Relief Society room to see my lovely neighbor, dressed in her religious robes, lying peacefully in the front of the room. Her casket was draped in lilies and the sight of her there was transcendent–the very spot where earth met heaven. She looked radiant in her post-mortal peace.
For a moment I waited there, arms loaded with cloth, envisioning all the many Sundays Sister Rodgers had stood in front of the room waving her arms in the air, encouraging us to sing the songs of Zion. She was never shy to address the sisterhood before and after hymns–sometimes teaching us about the song we were to sing, or coaching us on our vocal quality. She stood there for years leading us in hymns up until the day her eyesight was too bad for her to get up and down quickly. Her last testimony to us started “I am the oldest person in this ward, and I have a few things to say…”
And now she slept peacefully in that same spot where she once stood so animated.
I had heard all about it on my mission, especially while working with Montreal’s Little Italy population: our church houses are plain. Where is our ornamentation? Where are our great edifices of inspiration? Why are the walls so bare? Why are the colors so muted? Where is the enlightenment in our architecture?
And the answer came to me, a few weeks after Sister Rodger’s funeral, as I sat cross-legged in my socks on the blue-green carpet in the same Relief Society room. I joined a circle of my fellow sisters, as we were led in body-stretching and meditation techniques for our monthly meeting. Each of us breathing heavily, twisting our bodies, rolling around, sometimes grunting, laughing, trying. What was a few weeks earlier a sacred location for our sister’s last viewing, was now the scene of stretch pants and pregnant women amateurishly attempting yoga.
The answer is us. Isn’t it? We are the ornamentation in our churches. We are the decoration. We use those bare-walled rooms to weave our complex and colorful narratives into what hopefully amounts to a greater faith. In those muted walls we become vulnerable, we bounce our growing babies, we work out our issues, we socialize, we disagree, we forgive, we find holiness, we grow old.
It’s with our lives that we decorate our churches. And with our memories they become holy to us.