Only two young children were brave enough to join Rev. Mary when she asked for help with the sermon this morning. They shyly approached the front of the church where Mary awaited with pens and index cards.
Staying engaged in the liturgy had been a struggle. I kept turning over and over in my head a comment that really bothered me. At a recent memorial service in the same Episcopal church, a visitor — someone I know well — remarked that they really hated canned prayers. “In our church, we think you should just talk straight to the Big Guy,” she said to me. “There shouldn’t be anyone between you and God.”
As I sat in church, surrounded mostly by gray haired people, reciting prayers together and warbling through nineteenth century tunes with eighteenth century lyrics, I could see how it would seem foreign, formal, maybe even forced to someone who gravitates toward a Big Box evangelical church.
But I found it welcoming and comforting, like being held in my mother’s arms.
For once upon a time, I did lean against my mother’s ample breast as she added her voice to the church choir. I, too, was a little shy. I disliked church school, which my brother dutifully attended during the grown up part of the service. Rather than sit alone, I joined my mother in the choir, and sang along as best I could.
I was also thinking about Memorial Day. Last year, I remember a man rose during the service and paid homage to a friend of his who fell in battle, long, long ago, when they were both young men. “I will never forget,” he said.
As the children stared up at Rev. Mary this morning, she explained that she would give them index cards and some pens to write a prayer. Their prayer would be read during the Prayers of the People, which came next. They were asked to give the cards and pens they didn’t need to someone in the congregation.
With trepidation, little Carrie began walking down the aisle. Mary said, “Just close your eyes and give it to someone.” Her blue sparkly shoes advanced methodically, first the right heel, then the toe, then the left heel, and the toe.
“Pssssst,” I whispered to her. “Psssst.” Her eyes still closed, she inched in my direction. At last she opened them and handed me a card.
On it, accompanied by hand-drawn symbols, I wrote this message: “For love and healing for those who served (and serve), and those who waited (and wait). May their hearts find peace.”
Ripples extend each time someone dies. They flatten in widening circles with time and distance. But the ripples remain even when they move beyond our sight.
Church for me is a time of communion. I’m not referring to the gathering of a supportive Christian community (though it is that), or the sharing of the sacrament that we call communion.
Church is a place where I feel close to my parents, and my mother in particular, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Episcopalian. It is a place that lives out of time, a place between this world and whatever follows it.
Poet David Whyte recently published this line:
“Beauty especially occurs in the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur.”
When it came time for the Prayers of the People, Rev. Mary read what little Carrie had written, her heart’s longing:
“I pray to float.”
This morning, I floated — thinking of those who have died, praying for those who remain, and held by the familiarity of a liturgy that is embedded in my bones.
(I wrote about my father’s service during WWII last year in this post and about my mother’s role holding down the homefront in this one.)