Not What I Expected

the violin and the pianoI thought Sunday was all about St. Patrick’s Day so when I got to church and saw a fiddle on the cushioned pew seat up front I thought,  “Wow, we’re going to have reels! Maybe even some step-dancing!”

But I was wrong in several ways that day.

First, in my attempt to wear green and still be warm on a mighty frosty morning, I wore a green wool scarf along with my fake-emerald pendant. I felt so good about the green AND the fact that I would actually be getting to church on time that I asked David to take my picture, which he very nicely did. The only problem was, I had put on one green earring and one purple one, which I didn’t realize ’til I looked closely at the photo.

But that wasn’t my only wrong assumption, as I say. I was wrong as well about the fiddle music. The violin that lay on that first pew seat at the front of the church was there because this was to be a Healing service, something that I had forgotten had been scheduled for this third Sunday in March.

I hadn’t expected when I arrived that I would soon see people filing quietly toward three healing stations in the sanctuary while a woman played that violin, accompanied by the organist/fill-in choir director who sat at the piano beside her. I had been to a healing service 20 years before at the height of the AIDS crisis and remembered the way people had come from all over Metropolitan area to be at it, some of them very visibly sick with the scourge that AIDS was in the early 90s.

I hadn’t expected to feel so moved as I watched the folks seeking healing sit in the designated chair as two people on either side and the person directly in front leaned in to hear what each had to say. Some spoke of what they needed healing for and some just bowed their heads to indicate they sought general prayers and the blessing that would follow.

In both cases, for me in the fifth pew, the sound of their whispers was as the sound of water over stones in a springtime brook.

So there were several surprises for me on that day. Sure I’m always sorry to miss a chance to hear an Irish reel but the sweet sobbing of the violin more than made up for any sense of loss on that score.

Here now is Greg Scott playing Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell, a tune we associate with the dim past because Ken Burns used as it the theme song for his documentary The Civil War. In fact it was written just 30 years ago. Listen to it now and think how for all the old beauty Creation shows us there is also much new beauty. Then think how, as my church teaches, revelation abounds, and God surely IS still speaking in this world.

The Love That Brought Us Here

14 years ago my husband’s mother had to be put in a nursing home due to the diminished mental capacities brought on by Alzheimer’s. There she suffered mightily until one Friday in November when she took a turn for the worse. We all hurried to her bedside. When a cart of food and beverages was wheeled in for us we got the message loud and clear: she was in her final hours.

I called our church office and told the story to the woman who picked up the phone. I did this automatically, even though our mother was not a member of our church but only an occasional visitor. Chokingly I described what her breathing was like and the way, from time to time, her eyes would open and she would look at us so pleadingly. “I know it’s Skip’s day off but I was hoping someone could help us…” I started to say.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” the kind woman interrupted me. “Let me call him right now!”

Skip, this senior pastor of ours, was at the lumber yard at the time, elbow-deep in a construction project. Still, less than 30 minute later he walked through the door in workshirt and jeans. He saw right away how frightened we all looked.

He asked if there was anything we would like to say to this small suffering woman so dear to us all but somehow none of us could speak, paralyzed as we were by sorrow and dread.

“Well why don’t we take hands and circle her bed,” he said quietly, and so we did that.

Then he called her by her name and said something about how the love that had brought her here was the love to which she was now returning.  I can’t give you the exact words – I still have around those moments a strange sort of amnesia – but in some few hours more she did in fact return to the love that brought her here if that is indeed what we do at life’s end.

So that’s what this church of ours is like that later married our daughter and our brother to their two beloved partners, a full year before same-sex marriage became legal in our state. This church says God is still speaking and so we must not place a period where God has placed a comma. Maybe you’ll take a minute to watch this photo montage and ponder for yourself all the hope contained in a humble punctuation mark.