Silent Night

It’s been a good week. Time has moved relatively slowly, not rushed – despite the fact that we didn’t really start working toward Christmas until Sunday. We did a bunch of shopping and planned our Christmas surprises and in general enjoyed ourselves. We actually had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, just the five of us plus Jane’s boyfriend. It was a relaxing day. To top it all off, two packages that we thought weren’t going to arrive until after Christmas arrived just in time. Life was going well. This might have contributed to what happened that night.

I have always enjoyed the Christmas Eve worship service. Most services I have attended over the years have involved Lessons and Carols. The service alternates between Scripture reading and Christmas hymns. The last song is almost always Silent Night, sung by candlelight after the light of the Christ candle in the Advent wreath is used to light everyone’s handheld candles.

In my experience, people then file silently out of the sanctuary. It is a very solemn and spiritual moment. This year, however, my church added Joy To The World to the end of the service. And I was one of four people playing bells for it.

This meant that I walked up to the front of the sanctuary, behind the altar, just in front of the chancel area, before the candles were lit for Silent Night. We needed to be ready for Joy To The World, so we would sing Silent Night up front instead of in our pews.

I was looking down at my music and in general getting ready when the pastor approached with the flame. I lit my candle from his and turned to Jane who lit hers from mine. We each turned behind us to the choir so someone could light theirs from ours. And then we turned around.

I was stunned. All but the back few rows already had their candles lit. It was glorious and beautiful. It took my breath away. And then we started singing Silent Night – that beautifully haunting song. I had the benefit of a dozen gifted singers right behind me and the lights of candles lighting up the faces of my church family in front of me.

My throat constricted. I had to force the song through. I sternly told myself not to cry. Not because there’d be anything wrong with that but because it would prevent me from joining my voice with the choir. I regained my composure.

And then I saw my middle child standing there by himself – his father was in the choir. His mother and sister preparing to play bells. His little brother asleep in the pew. I thought of the darling boy who couldn’t wait to light his candle who was now sleeping through the song. I looked at the smile on my standing son’s face – the son who had lit his candle without adult supervision and hadn’t burned anything down. His smile was beaming. I think he had forgotten to sing.

I saw the man on hospice care sitting in his wheelchair in the center aisle. It had to have taken so much energy for he and his wife to have been there. I hadn’t seen either one of them in months.

Then I saw my friend and her aging mother. Her mother but not her father, who had passed away earlier this year. Her mother was still grieving and was starting to get confused and requiring more focused care. My friend was trying to help her mother with the candle. It was not unlike helping a child. But both of their faces were lit up with the light of Christ. They were beautiful. In all their love and struggle and grief. they were beautiful. It was Christmas Eve. And everyone was beautiful.

My throat constricted again and I pushed through a little less successfully. I was sure I had never seen anything more powerful or heard anything more powerful or been part of anything more powerful. A single tear traced a path down my cheek and I let it travel without wiping it away.

My church family means so much to me. My biological family lives at least four hours away – all of them. So when I need help and support, it’s my church friends who provide it. And it’s them who receive my support. But this went beyond that. Beyond love of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am, in my heart, a skeptic. I analyze, I doubt, I require proof. I do not accept a literal reading of all parts of the Bible. I have a modern look at it. There are many things that members of my congregation believe that I do not. I can understand where atheists are coming from. I can.

But in that moment, with the beautiful music swelling around me and the soft glow lighting people’s faces and the tear on my cheek, I saw the hope. I felt the hope. I shared the hope. I’m still the same person with all the same beliefs and doubts. That will likely never change – it’s how God made me. But that moment was sacred for me. I can only assume I felt my “heart strangely warmed” the same as John Wesley felt so many years before me.

I am at peace. Merry Christmas everyone.

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My Year Lurking on the Sidelines

I currently have 30 unpublished drafts in my WordPress repertoire. The most recent is less than two weeks old; the oldest is approaching three years. Some of them are unfinished, and at this point likely never will be. Others are just waiting for me to hit “Publish”. Not even I can articulate why the delay.

There’s one that’s been haunting me though. You see, well over a year ago, a blogger followed me. I got an email from WordPress telling me so and I took its advice and followed the link to one of her posts, which I subsequently really liked. It stuck with me and I ultimately wrote a response post.

But I never published it. See, it was a list kind of thing. Her list had been short and succinct and funny and entertaining and insightful to her personality. My list was, I think, funny and entertaining and definitely insightful to my personality. But it had not been short and succinct. It was bloated and overstated. This in and of itself was insightful to who I am, but it bothered me. So I planned to revisit it and edit it down to something better. That was early April 2014. I edited it some more a month later but was still unsatisfied.

Then something unexpected happened. She started talking about legal troubles, her fight coming to an end, she’d be going to jail. This floored me. This beautiful soul? Going to jail? How can that be? She’s so open, so full of light. This is wrong.

You don’t actually know her, I reminded myself. You don’t know anything about her. Maybe she did do this thing or maybe she didn’t. You just don’t know.

My emotions were in a strange state. Here was a person I didn’t know but still, oddly, had come to care about. I wasn’t interacting with her on her blog – just reading her posts. She wasn’t interacting on mine. We had no relationship, yet I was distressed.

And it clearly seemed like the wrong time to publish my list response to her list. She had bigger problems than things she “irrationally” hated. So I sat on it. And continued to read about her troubles.

Eventually, she went to jail. Her husband posted on her blog periodically about how she was doing. He gave an address for people to write to. So many people were supportive and loved her. It was heart-warming.

I should mail her a print-out of my blog post, I thought. That might brighten her day a bit. Maybe. To know that even a stranger cares. But life is often busy and selfish. I never mailed the post. I thought about her often, but the kind thoughts of strangers does a person zero good if they are unaware of the thoughts.

And then tragedy struck again. Her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly. I don’t recall how the story got out. By then, I had become friendly with folks who all seemed to love this blogger very much. The pain I felt at her husband’s death was real. It didn’t feel like the abstract pain you feel when you hear news of distant death. I felt like a beautiful bird was being weighted down and it simply wasn’t right.

Still, I didn’t mail the post. To mail it then in the midst of all that grief seemed shallow and insensitive. Who wants to talk jovially about irrational hates at a time like that. Besides, who was I to her?

Then, all those mutual friends began to spread the word.

Rarasaur had a release date.

An internet parade of celebration began.

I smiled.

I didn’t feel like I had a right to be part of the celebration. That might seem strange to some, but I had happened upon her too late to develop a relationship before. I wasn’t her friend, virtual or otherwise. She wasn’t mine. She had simply been someone I admired, or whose writing I’d admired, or both. She was someone I had sensed a special spark in, someone I had hoped to get to know better.

And now she was out.

And I was glad.

Not because I could now attempt a relationship, but because she deserved to be out. She deserved for something to go right. She deserved to heal and to return to those people who loved her. And I’ve been enjoying all the grace and beauty I’ve seen from her since.

So here I was today, trying to remember all the blog posts I’d composed in my head over the last week or two, and the only one I could remember even an inkling of was this. To welcome Rara home. And finally share my list. As my silly, inconsequential way of welcoming her back and telling her that she meant something even to people she didn’t know were watching.

The list needs some touch-up. It’s nearly a year and a half old, after all. But I’ll share it soon. Not tacked onto this long post though. It already has its own long-winded intro and doesn’t need another. I’ll add the link here when it’s up though.

Welcome home Rara.

For the Love of God and Music

We go to church. A lot. I say that not to be pompous or self-righteous. I say it not to make you or the religious right assume I am one of them. I say it because it’s true and sets the stage for this post.

We even go to church for Maundy Thursday. This service, for some denominations, is when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s washing of his disciples feet. I’ve had some powerful experiences at Maundy Thursday services in the past.

Back when we were going to dance lessons at a nearby club on Thursday nights, we would joke come Holy Week that we couldn’t go dancing at the bar with our Baptist friends because we were going to church. That always made us laugh.

So, anyway. Hal got excited when I picked him up from school and said we were going to church. I clarified that we were going to a worship service, that he wouldn’t be watching movies and hanging out with Ms. Rita like he does on Wednesdays.

He dutifully sat with his worship notebook and drew contentedly for a few minutes, then began to fidget and try to sit on the floor. I told him to sit up. He asked for some gum. I said I didn’t have any. He fidgeted and sat on the floor. I told him to sit on the pew. Eventually he stage whispered, “Can I play a game on your phone?” I said no. His hands went to his eyes, head to the pew (still sitting on the floor), and his quiet sobs could be heard by anyone nearby.

He looked up at me and said plaintively, “But I want to do something fun!”

“We aren’t here to have fun,” I said, already starting to feel there was something wrong in my words. “We are here to… to worship God and take Communion and… and… be quiet.”

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

There were 31 people from two congregations there. And that included the choir and the two pastors. Maundy Thursday is not attended by many. In fact, with the exception of the almost-13 year old friend of Jane’s present, my boys were the only people under 35 present. Even Jane had gone to watch a college volleyball game with her team.

What are we doing? I asked myself as I watched my young son cry because he was at church. What kind of damage are we inflicting?

These thoughts persisted after we left the church – the service was a very brief 30 minutes. From there, we headed to a professional symphony orchestra performance. One that started about 30 minutes before the boys’ bed time. But enriching your children’s lives is important. Infecting them with a love of music and all that, right?

Hal squirmed the entire time. Daryl complained that he was tired and did not want to be there.

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

Taking your kids to church is the right thing to do, right? Taking them to cultural events like high-quality symphony performances is the right thing to do, right?

So why aren’t they reveling in the awesome job we are doing at child rearing? Why aren’t they jumping up and down with excitement? Why aren’t they thanking us and begging for more?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that some experiences are valuable even if they aren’t fun. That children might learn to appreciate experiences later. That we have to set the stage for patience and respect and proper behavior. That we have to widen their horizons beyond video games and tee ball.

I’m just wondering at what age some of these experiences should begin. And whether our kids are typical or not. We are a music family. We are a church family. But are we driving the love for either or both out of our children?

I’m honestly not sure.