Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day 439

Walter Anderson's "Hummingbirds"

God’s droll little challenges. Today, at the 10:30 service, I found my back pew—that’s MY back pew—invaded by a twelve or thirteen year-old boy I have long nicknamed Wild Man. He has a name, I even know his name, but I will keep him hidden under his soubriquet for now.

Soubriquet is a bit of a stretch: as I understand its meaning, it denotes an affectionate or humorous nickname. Nom de guerre is probably more to the point, when it comes to my relationship with Wild Man. He has, for the most part, been a terrorist: bullying child from the apartment complex next to our church: bully not just in an abstract sense: he has bullied my own eight year old son, and all of the other younger children at one time or another over the past six months or so, since he was adopted by our youth group. I have run him off our playground after church before, after some particularly egregious behavior, not, of course, without mentally noting just how decidedly inhospitable and unChrist-like my own playground policing was. After services, my son and his friends always check to see if WM is around, before they head out for the playground: if the answer is in the affirmative, more often than not, they will play in the parish hall, until WM goes home, dropping himself over the fence from one of the long branches of our playground oaks.

Shortly after one of my banishings, I looked up from the “cup of salvation” I was serving around the communion rail, right into the face of my young nemesis. A sobering experience.

Suffice it to say, Wild Man was the last person I would want invading my peaceful Sunday pew. But, God is all about breaking and entering, isn’t he? Unquestionably, an agent provocateur, and she must have amusedly decided that today my Baskin Robbins lottery number was up.

Only WM was not alone today. With him was a small blond barefoot Dickensian urchin. I had seen this boy playing with my son when I picked him up from Sunday School. B— was WM’s little brother: a gentle, attentive, heartbreaking boy who my own son had taken a liking to, intermittently bemused and slightly horrified that this boy was the younger brother of the playground terrorist.

There was some rough brotherly shepherding on the part of WM at first: little broo had set his shoes beneath one of the pews, but could not find them: combination of helping to look and chiding from big broo. I got down on my knees at one point to survey pews from behind the back rows, when WM genuinely thanked me, even gently touched my arm, and said they had found them.

Through the early part of the service, WM vacillated between attentiveness, standard boilerplate WM-obnoxious behavior (calmly shushed or redirected by the rector’s younger son in the pew ahead of us), and occasional bopping of his brother for crimes to which only he seemed privy. Trumped up charges all: the boy was simply trying to be a quiet witness to the service.

What were fascinating, however, were WM’s “unexpected” bouts of attentiveness. During the offertory, one of our tenors sang a gorgeous solo of The Lord’s Prayer. He sat rapt as the man sang, applauded quietly on his own, looked at me and said, “Wow. That was pretty.” When we sang another version of The Lord’s Prayer during the communion service, he again remarked about how pretty the song was. And, as we prepared to go to the rail, he very carefully explained the protocols to his brother, about passing The Kingdom of God is yours today / and yours also around the rail, and about younger broo simply crossing himself for a blessing, as he was not yet baptized to receive communion.

In our church, it is customary for the choir members and their families to receive communion first, to facilitate the singing that occurs while others are being served. I explained this to WM and his brother as I left early to join my wife and son at the rail. When I returned to the pew, WM smiled and jokingly chided me with, “You left us!”

When it came their turn for communion, I slid out of the pew to let them and others pass by. When I sat back down, I noticed that little brother, still barefoot, was sitting half-curled up in the pew by himself. I asked him if he’d like me to walk with him up to the rail and help him receive a blessing. He said yes.

I’ve mentioned his bare feet twice now: there was something very moving and powerful in the innocence of this barefoot boy going to the rail, his hand in mine, and then standing and receiving the blessings of the Eucharistic Ministers. I felt very deeply blessed by his—and yes, even his brother’s—presence, as I stood behind. It unnerved me deeply to feel the intimacy of being with them in God’s family. As I stood there, big broo looked over from his spot a few people down the rail and whispered, “Thank you.”

The two of them disappeared out the door, after we got back to the pew, time and privacy enough for me to crack open a bit and fill up with tears—a bit more of God’s breaking and entering.

After service, in the parish hall, I found both boys looking at the art work on the walls, from a week’s worth of children’s Breakfast with the Arts classes. I had attended two of the classes with my son. Little brother was standing in front of a painting entitled Zebra Bird: a Walter Anderson-like portrait of an eagle’s head. “This is my favorite,” he said. “Well,” I said, “it happens to be mine. Do you want it?” No hesitation at all: yes. As I untaped it from the wall, I heard big brother over my shoulder say, “This is my favorite.” Violin Bird: a pelican in similar Anderson-like fashion. “It’s yours,” I said. Very genuine thanks on big brother’s part, and an assurance that “this will go up on my wall.”

You’ll notice that a few paragraphs back I dropped the use of big brother’s soubriquet. I will now drop its use permanently. I will not disclose his name here, but it is the only way I will refer to him in the future.

It is easy to yearn for God from the comfort of our loving and loved insular lives. Easy to show up and share in the loving fellowship. B—‘s big brother answers a call to God that struggles within himself and finds his way to a table of worshippers that struggles to welcome him. Rough and tumble: God’s pure larceny. Amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day 401

Again, from McCarthy's The Crossing:

He nodded. He knew her well enough, this old woman of Mexico, her sons long dead in that blood and violence which her prayers and her prostrations seemed powerless to appease. Her frail form was a constant in that land, her silent anguishings. Beyond the church walls the night harbored a millennial dread panoplied in feathers and the scales of royal fish and if it yet fed upon the children still who could say what worse wastes of war and torment and despair the old women's constancy might not have stayed, what direr histories yet against which could be counted at last nothing more than her small figure bent and mumbling, her crone's hands clutching her beads of fruitseed. Unmoving, austere, implacable. Before just such a God.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Day 394

From Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing:

In the end what the priest came to believe was that the truth may often be carried about by those who themselves remain all unaware of it. They bear that which has weight and substance and yet for them has no name whereby it may be evoked or called forth. They go about ignorant of the true nature of their condition, such are the wiles of truth and such its stratagems. Then one day in that casual gesture, that subtle movement of divestiture, they wreak all unknown upon some ancillary soul a havoc such that the soul is forever changed, forever wrenched about in the road it was intended upon and set instead upon a road heretofore unknown to it. This new man will hardly know the hour of his turning nor the source of it. He will himself have done nothing that such great good befall him. Yet he will have the very thing, you see. Unsought for and undeserved. He will have in his possession that elusive freedom which men seek with such unending desperation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day 392

when only was only,
you ask,
was never ever?

babes lined to pool
at the corner:
xelena’s pool
yemaya’s pool
the holy waters of
north saint mary,

mary standing
behind the shattered
marquee, a

shattered bliss,
a portion of eternity,
& the babes are jumpin’, &

your hand back
to your son
is a portion,

a blessing to

the babes you’ll never see:
the only never you’ll ever.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Day 389


by Rufus Wainwright

album: Want One (2003)

Woke up this morning at 11:11
Wasn't in Portland and I wasn't in heaven
Could have been either by the way I was feeling
But I was alive, I was alive
Woke up this morning at 11:11
John was half-naked and Lulu was crying
Over a baby that will never go crazy
But I was alive
And kicking through this cruel world
Holding a notion of you at 11:11
Tell me what else can I do
What else can I do?
Woke up this morning and something was burning
Realized that everything really does
Happen in Manhattan
Thoughts were of characters and afternoons lying
And you, you were alive
Oh the hours we are separate
11:11 is just precious time we've wasted
So patch up your bleeding hearts
And put away your posies
I'm gonna have a drink
Before we ring around the rosies with you

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Day 326


Blundering Bedros:
After wisdom’s retreat,
Your acts of defiant grace—

Impetuous, exuberant;
Ignorance born of
Love and grand miscalculation,

Of and for us as
As we, too, blunder forth
In your brazen

Friday, March 02, 2007

Day 290


River-wine, she sang, did Tea, into her fields of winter green and blue honey. She would sing down the mighty rivers of Africa, she would, she said, down Niles blue and wild and merry.

Twas the season of mirth, of lilies of the valley, of dawns’ fingers dipped with rose a-plenty. This world she carried in her heart, fired as the hearts of Christ and Mary, sacred hearts, blazing hearts, cherished hearts of lads and bonnie maids and carols past the shining stroke of summer’s eve.

She whispered into a man’s heart and a maid’s, and found oceans of time, oceans of God’s sweet eternity. Asters, startworts—the roods of daylight breaking in. Blue, like Mary’s light, still bathing. Blue, Venus rising to your occasion. Blue, stardust of the Virgin who weeps.

What wort would thou, Tea? Prithee, tell. Sing it star-shaped, and sing it gaily.