Reflectionary-by Phyllis Tickle

At the Kneeling Rail

kneeling rail

“There is a story going around that seems to me to be worth retelling here. As for whether it’s true or not, I cannot say, obviously; but I heard it some time ago on the road (which is where I come upon most of the good stories in my life these days) and have found it to be a delightful and informing bit of narrative ever since.

It seems that Higgs Boson decided to go to church one Sunday in order to receive the Eucharist. When it came to Higgs’s time to be served at the communion rail, however, the priest refused to serve him. Higgs protested, but the priest was adamant that, not being a Christian, Higgs Boson could not receive the sacraments and, furthermore, that he must leave. Reluctantly, Higgs got up from the kneeling rail and turned to leave, but before he did so, the story says, he turned back to the priest one last time and said, “I will go, Father, but you must understand that without me, you have no mass.”

It’s a witticism, of course; but like all memorable witticisms, it contains the sharpened edge of truth. And that truth for me is that unless and until all the organized, institutionalized, doctrinalized religions of this world, whether Christian or not, can admit into their expressions and exercises of faith the current truths about the universe in which we move and act, we are all in danger of spiritual maleficence. Whatever else may be the call or mission–or even the many rewards–of inter-faith spirituality and conversation, this one thing is also true: Today, it is in just such non-particularized, non-sectarian space that we human beings seem best able to be both vulnerable before, and energized by, our own amazement. And therein lies a beauty that can bless all the world’s peoples.


PHYLLIS TICKLE, founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, the international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic media, and innumerable blogs and web sites. Tickle is an authority on religion in America, a prolific author, and a much sought after lecturer on the subject.

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