at the 9am mass today in san francisco church, there was this woman, apparently 'crazy', who would come up and literally walk over the pews already occupied by people. we were standing in preparation for the gospel reading when she came by the pew in front of us. she would repeat this until the last two columns of pews on my rights. anyone 'normal' would use the aisles, and by a show of respect, walk a little stooped to not disturb the space and concentration of people attending the mass. the last time i saw this woman, she was going back, and again, passed by the pew in front, and the same pew on my left, which did not sit well with an older man already there as he frowned and gave the woman a scornful look.
indeed, we are small social worlds, even here in this church, filled to capacity at the seams as even the entrance and the left side were brimming with people. as a social world, there are standards of behavior followed. break them and you notice 'yeah, it is really wrong to act this way in church'. but if you will see, what the woman did in breaking decorum was to magnify how simple acts of just walking through could actually be considered deviant behavior. because of course, has it been written in black and white that it is wrong to walk over pews already occupied? microsociology here says, well, it does not read writing at all because these are social cues, that we, as normal people, just know. but to see someone break it, we realize that in church, as in other public place, we tend to establish strict private personal spaces that no one should transgress because it just is.
we know admonitions against going to church in slippers, sandos or even in shorts. wearing see-through blouses for women are considered a no-no, then what more low-cut blouses showing cleavage? we are told to talk in whispers, and even if one is raring to shout back at the priest for the church's hypocrisy on the reproductive health bill, one just had to control and bear the 4-page pastoral letter (in place of the sermon) read over sleeping and blank faces of church-goers. in perth, we follow orderly lines in taking communion, one pew at a time. no overtaking. people at the back are definitely the last to receive communion. here in the philippines, many lectors still begin the mass with a reminder to parents to keep their children still. in perth, there is no such reminder, as it is believed, infants and toddlers have a world of their own which no adult could control. but whether in perth or naga, personal spaces in church are set in that 3-inch radius from where we stand or sit. people mutter excuses while entering occupied pews, and some even wait and enter when everyone else is already seated. we no longer hold hands during Ama Namin (except among lovers or relatives) perhaps more for health reasons although before this was encouraged to promote 'unity' starting with the Cory Aquino administration. then after taking communion, we expect to return to very same pew we occupied, and it's a no-no for this space to be taken by anyone while the mass is ongoing.
so by breaking the rules, the woman did a huge favor by presenting the hidden social cues, learned not from instruction but from the culture, this 'silent' unwritten known knowledge that holds us to our place and personal space amid a crowd of strangers.