Sunday, November 05, 2006

the eye of the storm

One of the first scripture verses I learned was, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’” Actually, it was a song we sang in Sunday School or VBS – that detail I don’t recall. The verse came back to me as I sat down to write because today was one of those days when I was reminded – again – why I love being a part of the church and of my church.

Worship at North Community Church is always a bit of a whirlwind, with the congregation sitting in the eye of the Spirit Storm. Ginger and the rest of the team do a great job planning the services, making each detail matter. There are no discards. In the course of a service, there are often eight or nine people participating in everything from scripture readings to prayers to children’s sermons. All of our readers and participants are given clear direction as to what it means to lead worship. It shows in how they are able to lead us.

I got to church early to get things ready for Coffee Hour. I entered the Parish Hall to find a few members of the youth group who had had a sleep over and were eating breakfast. About nine o’clock, the fifth through eighth graders arrived because they have Sunday School before church. A couple of people came in to return dishes from meals delivered to them during the week. I turned on the coffee pot and went over to the sanctuary, which is across the street, and had time to greet a few folks before things began.

The announcements gave a quick snapshot of what makes up the whirlwind: the coming Church Fair, Coffee Hour, thanks for care during illness and recuperation, Community League – those were just the verbal ones; there was a page of printed announcements in the worship guide as well.

We make a clear distinction between “having gathered and preparing our hearts for worship.” Our call comes after the announcements, as the choral introit brings us to focus. Many of the elements stay the same: an opening hymn, a prayer of confession and words of assurance, the Psalm of the Day, the offering, the children’s sermon, another hymn, the prayers of the people, the scripture reading, the sermon, and the benediction. Today we had some added extras (as we often do): a baptism, a liturgical dance, and Communion (which happens every first Sunday). After church, the storm didn’t stop: Coffee Hour, Teaching Parish Committee, another youth group gathering, Confirmation, and a couple of other ad hoc meeitngs. Ginger and I drove out of the parking lot about one.

Ginger is a very gifted, dancer, choreographer, and worship leader. Though she has danced most of her life, today was the second time (I think) that she has danced here in Marshfield. She, along with Dana (one of our seminarians) and Heather (our CE Minister) danced to a song my friend Billy and I wrote called “Twenty-One Times.” We got the idea for the song from reading Paul Bowles’ wonderful novel, The Sheltering Sky, and this quote in particular:

Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply part of your being that you, that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.
Our take on his sentiment, which resonated deeply with us came out this way:
she saw the sun go down twenty-one times
twenty-one times in thirty-five years

she saw the sun go down

she thought there’d be a million

and she thought that she would see them

but she saw the sun go down twenty-one times


she stayed and danced all night only one time

only one time in thirty-five years

she stayed and danced all night

the moonlight fell like laughter

on her happy ever after

but she stayed and danced all night only one time


and over new England

geese are flying south

a November night fall

settles round about

and a lighthouse calls another home


she walked away from love so many times

so many times times in thirty-five years

she walked away from love

and hearing lesser voices

she turned them into choices

but she walked away from love so many times


and over new England

geese are flying south

a November night fall

settles round about

and a lighthouse calls another home
The woman in the song was thirty-five because that’s how old Billy and I were when we wrote the song. Fifteen years and some 5,500 sunsets later, I still believe what we wrote. If, as they sang in RENT, life can be measured “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee,” then it can be measured in coffee hours, children sermons, hymns, and prayer requests. I’ve been alive for almost 2,600 Sundays: 2,600 morning worships, 2,600 choral anthems, 2,600 invocations, 9,000 hymns, and about 25,000 announcements.

There are days I grow weary of the details that require attention in order to live in community. What matters to some does not matter as much to me, and vice versa. I always wish Church Council Meeting was shorter and I have no idea how to make sense of the Treasurer’s Report, even though he works hard to make it make sense. Our faith will not thrive because of political lobbying efforts, nor will it crash and burn because of public spectacles like the one we saw this past week. Our faith lives and thrives in the everyday motions of its people between every sunrise and sunset.

For two millennia, Christians have come to the Communion Table and fed one another as we did again today. As Ginger offered us the bread, in an unscripted moment, she said, “If you’ve ever felt alone, broken, hurt, isolated, judged based on your appearance or by your behaviors, this is the place of acceptance and grace where you are welcome, a place you can trust. You are loved. Take and eat.”

Over New England, the geese are flying south and I’m writing as another November nightfall settles around me. I’m grateful that part of the way I learned to mark time in my life is in counting how many sunsets must pass until I can say, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”

Oh – I wish you could have seen the dance; it was amazing.

Peace,
Milton

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing...in a way I saw the dance clearly. Thanks Milton.

Real Live Preacher said...

Very nice and familiar. That's the only reason to go to church, to find what you are describing. Community - accept no substitutes.

gander said...

If I can measure my life by the number of liturgical dances I've seen at NCC, I'm 2-for-2, and glad of it. :)

And the coffee was good too.

Thank you, Milton.

Anonymous said...

This post and that of 11/02 are wonderful. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences. Your writing is a gift to many.
Bill Hill

SpookyRach said...

This is so cool.