Stained glass windows and the smell of burning incense

I visualized the tall ceilings of the church, picturing the dark wood support beams that were in contrast with the white of the walls. I could see the sunlight streaming through the colorful glass windows that showed the scenes leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In my mind the communion was all laid out on silver trays sitting on white sheets draped over the altar. I could almost smell the incense from the bronze thurible, the smoke wafting through the intricate design of the round metal censer.
And soon, I could.  – A Symphony of Cicadas, Chapter 7, pages 86

As a child, my Polish grandmother used to take me to her Catholic church, St. Rose in Santa Rosa, Ca.  This was the church I envisioned as I wrote out this chapter, describing when Rachel and Jane (oh, you guys will love Jane!) as they crashed a funeral about to take place.

The Catholic services of my youth were long and boring.  I never quite understood what the priest was saying.  When he wasn’t droning on and on in a monotone voice, probably telling us how we were all going to hell because we just couldn’t live up to God’s expectations, he was speaking in Latin.  There was one time my grandmother even took us to a Spanish service, despite the fact that the only Spanish I knew was how to count to ten.  My grandmother didn’t even know Spanish.  It must have looked really funny to see this Polish grandmother and her granddaughters wearing Easter bonnets among a bunch of Hispanics as they wondered why we were there.

However, the little interest I held in the actual service as a child was made up for my intrigue in the elaborate building this service was held in.  Say what you will about the Catholic church, but they know their architecture.  Catholic churches are breathtaking!  While the priest droned on, I would look up at the story the stained glass windows held, and somehow get just as much out of those as the priest hoped I’d get out of his sermon.

Censer-Incense-Burner-01I think the part I loved the most about the Catholic church was the thurible.  The priest would put burning charcoal in this bronze globe, closing it tight before swinging it back and forth as he walked down the aisle.  I liked to pretend the smoke was magical somehow; that if it touched me I’d be protected.  That smell, to this day, evokes memories of holiness and innocence, before politics and lies got in the way of the beauty that still exists in the Catholic church.

I’m no longer Catholic (not sure I ever even was), but I still recall the symbolism, the choir, the holy water, the chanting….all the holy rituals that make up the church service with fondness.

Well, everything except for the droning.

The picture above is not of St. Rose, but it is of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco (if you click on the photo, you can see it larger). If you ever find yourself in SF, take part of your day to check out the architecture in their historic churches.  Trust me, they’re breathtaking.

This is just one of several posts to come that dives into the chapters of A Symphony of Cicadas, and the inspiration behind the story. For all sneak peeks at the novel, CLICK HERE. To purchase the book, go to – only 99 cents for a limited time!

Stay tuned for more!

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